'She Had Never Seen a Place for Which Nature Had Done More': The Role of Nature in Jane Austen's Enlightened Feminist Romanticism

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'She Had Never Seen a Place for Which Nature Had Done More': The Role of Nature in Jane Austen's Enlightened Feminist Romanticism
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Nature ( jstor )
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Copyright 2006 by Kadesh Lauridsen Minter


This document is dedicated to “Janeites” ev erywhere and the societ y that supports them, the Jane Austen Society of North America.


iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Many important people contributed to th e completion of this work. My father, Todd Lauridsen, taught me to read and to l ove literature. My mo ther, Pamela Foster, taught me by example how to live and love. Sh e has constantly encouraged me in my many educational endeavors, and she made my desire for a graduate degree a reality. My husband, Travis Minter, made a gr eat number of personal sacrif ices so that I could pursue this degree. His constant love and encouragem ent is a daily source of inspiration to me. At the University of North Florida, Dr. William Slaughter taught me how to revise and gave me the priceless gift of treating me like a real writer. Dr. Michael Wiley first introduced me to the Romantics and made the period come alive in my imagination. At the University of Florida, Dr. Judith Pa ge helped me to find an argument among my many interests in the long eighteenth centu ry. Her endless encouragement and support inspired and enabled me to write about the great Jane Austen in spite of the overwhelming number of critics who have done so before me. Dr. Page is both a friend and a mentor to me. I hope in the future to emulate her gracious and thorough approach to teaching and her warm and open-minded approach to life.


v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... vi CHAPTER 1 PREFACE: NATURE AND THE ESTATE................................................................1 2 NATURE, GENDER, AND ROMANTICISM............................................................7 3 WORDSWORTH AND THE AGENCY OF WOMEN............................................15 Romantic Sympathy and Gender................................................................................15 Wordsworthian Development.....................................................................................19 Masculine Agency in Wordsworth.............................................................................20 Feminine (Lack of) Agency in Wordsworth...............................................................21 4 AUSTEN’S “FEMININE ROMANTICISM”............................................................27 Revising Wordsworth: Austen’s Romantic Heroine..................................................27 Elizabeth’s Development in Nature............................................................................31 Memory, Development, and Feminine Agency..........................................................37 5 FEMININE ROMANTICISM AND MANSFIELD PARK ........................................40 The Function of Memory in Development.................................................................42 Fanny’s Education in Nature......................................................................................48 Two M odels of Education in Nature...........................................................................52 Natural Morality and Sympathy.................................................................................56 Feminine Agency in Mansfield Park..........................................................................60 6 CONCLUSION...........................................................................................................66 WORKS CITED................................................................................................................68 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................70


vi Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts “SHE HAD NEVER SEEN A PLACE FO R WHICH NATURE HAD DONE MORE”: THE ROLE OF NATURE IN JANE AUSTEN’S ENLIGHTENED FEMINIST ROMANTICISM By Kadesh Lauridsen Minter August 2006 Chair: Judith Page Major Department: English This work attempts to demonstrate that Jane Austen participated in and revised several themes commonly associated with the British Romantic period, making her an important contributor to our understanding of Romanticism a nd to our sense of the way women writers of the period differed from th eir male counterparts. I compare her works with William Wordsworth in order to show that she shared an affin ity with Wordsworth for examining the way nature influenced a nd formed memory, character, and community. However, Austen varied her use of these co mmon themes in order to forward her own ideas about female development. Austen foregr ounds the role of fema le characters in a way that highlights a woman’s ability to lear n from nature how to think for herself and how to act upon her own well-t hought-out judgments. This sub tle change in focus makes Austen a feminist within her own time, one whose apparent agreement with the status quo actually revises masculine Romantic views toward nature and creates new ways to


vii think about women. Her novels establish womenÂ’ s equality by demonstrating their ability to interact with and learn from nature the same way that men can.


1 CHAPTER 1 PREFACE: NATURE AND THE ESTATE It was a large, handsome, stone bui lding, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills;—a nd in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artifici al appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something! (259) When reading a passage like the one above from Pride and Prejudice , Romantic critics tend to focus on Pemberley as an esta te, with all the soci al and institutional connotations the term entails, ra ther than on what I believe are Jane Austen’s decidedly Romantic descriptions of natu re as it occurs in and around the estate. This difference of approach has a direct influe nce on the way critics understa nd her position within “the female cause,” which was under debate in her time by both male and female authors (Bannet 7). I believe that Austen views the es tate as a contested dom estic space and that her placement of actions and characters w ithin it creates a point of reference for numerous critical observations on nature, wh ich, in turn, indicate and punctuate the processes of growth and deve lopment in her female characters. In many ways, Austen’s use of nature mirrors that of male Romantic writers, particularly Wordsworth. Later I will discuss the ways that Austen, like Wordswort h, makes use of nature in order to create a model of moral development, though her ideas on nature represent a feminine response to masculine ideals of the period.


2 Alastair Duckworth’s book The Improvement of the Estate is highly regarded by Romantic critics as the f oundational text for studies of the estate in Austen.1 Duckworth provides an insightful reading of Austen’s use of the estate and amply proves the importance of such critical attention. He finds a “thematic unity” in Austen’s later novels— Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion : such a unity resides in Jane Austen’s con ception of the ‘estate’ and in her idea of ‘improvement.’ For Jane Austen, in Mansfield Park , the estate as an ordered physical structure is a metonym for other i nherited structures—soc iety as a whole, a code of morality, a body of manners, a system of language—and ‘improvements,’ or the manner in which individuals relate to their cultural inheritance, are a means of distinguishing responsible from irre sponsible action and of defining a proper attitude toward social change. (ix) Though it is difficult to overvalue this contribut ion to the critical discussion, I believe Duckworth makes the mistake that numerous Austen critics make—he observes and interprets the moral developmen t of the characters, and other key themes in the novel, in terms of the experiences of the male characters, rather than re ading the novels as they are written, with the major emphasis placed upon the development and experiences of the female heroines.2 Examining the estate in Austen’s nove ls in terms of inheritance forces readers to set aside the inner progress and perspective of the heroine, who is situated by Austen as an outsider to these structures. Austen did not intend for her readers to understand her novels from a male perspective, since each nove l places the reader within the consciousness of a female heroine. I do not mean to imply that inheritance of estates is not a central theme in Austen’s novels , or that the laws governing estates do not 1 Duckworth’s original 1971 text was reissued by Johns Hopkins Press in 1994, demonstrating the book’s enduring relevance to Austen studies. 2 Even critics who attempt to determine Austen’s degr ee or type of feminism make this mistake. For example, Susan Fraiman claims that Elizabeth Bennet loses her credibility and strength as a character because “the narrative that passes Elizabeth from one father to another … takes her from shaping judgments to being shaped by them” (63).


3 directly affect Austen’s heroines; rather, I hope to correct what I see to be a critical perspective skewed toward the masculine that does not exist in th e works themselves. Duckworth does concede that “the paradox of Mansfield Park … is that the estate is preserved not by its trustees but by the one character who is, initially, and later for a time again, an outsider” (71). Duckworth asks a vital question that I attempt to answer as part of my larger argument: “How … are we to account for Fanny’s instinctive morality, her innate qualities?” (72). He rules out several obvious s ources of Fanny’s “quality” or “impulse” of morality: it is neither “geneti c” nor a result of “her adoptive environment and the education she receives there,” by wh ich he refers to the influence of the characters in residence at Mansfield (72). Duckworth considers Fanny’s core values to have originated within the esta te itself, which he defines as a physical structur e, with little reference to the natural world around it.3 When Duckworth discusses improvements, he includes both houses and grounds as potential objects of change—t aken together, the house and grounds make up his concept of the estate. In his analysis, nature does not exert a separate influence; he only values nature as a part of the larg er social unit. I argue that a closer reading of Austen suggests that nature provides the template for morality and that those who tamper with it degrade its intr insic value. In his examination of this theme in Mansfield Park , Duckworth finds that “without Fa nny, it becomes clear, that structure of the Mansfield world is crumbling, and it is not only fitting but neces sary that her return be sought at the Park. She has become the gua rdian of a debased heritage” (79). If, as Duckworth claims, Mansfield embodies “a debased heritage” and is inhabited by 3 Duckworth does claim that the relative moral health of an estate in Austen’s novels is directly connected with the state of its trees, noting that, in Austen, “t he presence of trees betokens value” (54). Beyond this brief reference, he makes no distinction between objects of nature and the estate as a whole.


4 characters living in varying degrees of moral compromise, how can such an environment have produced a morally superior being like Fanny? I suggest that Fanny instead finds her moral “impulse” in nature and brings thes e values back to the estate in a way that ultimately restores it to its full potential as a model of domestic happiness. If we view the estates in Austen’s works solely in terms of their function as buildings, domestic spaces, and economic units, we miss the importance of Austen’s rich and vari ed descriptions of nature as it occurs within the borders of the estate and in the surrounding countryside. It is nature, and not the estate, that provides a source of moral stability and a classroom in which Austen’s characters can learn true morality. Duckworth forms much of his theory around the concept of male inheritance without addressing the problems of inheritance for the female characters, namely that women cannot inherit the estate and are, from birth, guests in the home or extended family of a father, husband, or male relative. What then, do women inherit? Austen’s novels depict women who inherit a series of social expectatio ns that limit their perceived ability to govern their own lives; only when they learn to lay claim to this agency do they find ways to influence the social structures controlling their destinies. I believe Austen’s novels are ultimately about the ways women can assert themselves into the male hierarchy, and in some cases, become central to the stability of the domestic space that is the estate. Such a reading requires a shift in cr itical focus from a masculine to a feminine perspective, one that recent feminist critic s, including Eve Bannet and Anne Mellor, have termed Enlightenment Feminism, which is a useful category for exploring varying degrees of feminism in the writings of the Romantic period. Bannet and Mellor take a broader view of women’s writings by ex amining the long eighteenth century as a


5 continuum and by showing the way women wr iting during the Romantic period chose to take from both Enlightenment philosophies a nd more current Romantic themes in order to argue for their feminist beliefs. Wit hout understanding the context that critics like Bannet and Mellor bring to thei r readings, modern feminist thinkers may believe that many women writing during the Romantic pe riod condone or support the masculine agenda’s dictates on women’s place in society. Understanding Austen as an Enlightenment Feminist—a term I will discuss in more detail later—gives me language to describe the way she uses her works to advan ce the female cause. From this perspective, Austen’s emphasis on nature—rather than he r use of the estate—becomes more evident and central to her thematic goals. This altern ative perspective can also give us a better look at the way Austen’s use of nature helps us place her work in relationship to our ideas of Romanticism. Critical discussion of Austen as a Romantic author is sparse, but the few scholars who have attempted such a study have come up with a variety of ways to connect Austen with her canonical contemporaries. Among thes e, only a few have addressed the issue of Austen’s representations of nature as a way of placing her within the Romantic period.4 Though we know that the term ‘R omanticism’ is itself a slippery one, most critics will agree that some sense of it is useful in di scussing the common themes and ideas of the period. By examining two central novels, Pride and Prejudice, a novel written at the end of Austen’s early works, and Mansfield Park , a novel that marks the beginning of 4 For instance, Karl Kroeber, in his article “Jane Austen, Romantic,” finds a “connection between Jane Austen and the Romantic poets” by exploring the role of perception in their works. He finds links between Austen’s novels and Wordsworth’s poetry in “the authors’ common purpose of engaging the reader’s consciousness in how perception may relate to preconc eption, how desire and imagination interact” (292). Though Kroeber suggests a need to take Romantic scholarship beyond “overt thematic similarities” between the two authors in order to explore “Austen’ s relation to Romantic attitudes toward ‘feeling’ and ‘nature,’” he does not do so in his own work (292).


6 Austen’s later works, I hope to show that fe male development, as it occurs in and through the natural surroundings of the es tate, is central to Austen’s feminine Romantic claims for women’s equality with men. Among Romantic writers Wordsworth is perhaps best known for his focus on nature, and I found myself drawn to compare Austen to him. At first, I found much similarity in their treatment of and attit udes toward nature. However, more subtle readings of Austen reveal that she handl es some of the major Romantic themes differently from Wordsworth, in ways that revise Wordsworth by emphasizing feminine strength and the importance of the process of female development. Readers tend to associate Austen with her razor sharp wit and her subtle criticisms of social conventions, while thinking of Wordsworth as the “nature poet,” one who is an au thority on nature in the English countryside. We pi cture Austen’s characters in the drawing room or the ballroom, while we imagine Wordsworth’s narrators wandering thr ough the countryside. Yet, much of the action in Austen’s novels takes place in England’s countryside, on or near country estates. All of Austen’s main characters have some experience outside the drawing rooms and parlors of these estate s. While these limited references cannot compare in volume to Wordsworth’s extensive descriptive commentary on the same English countryside, Austen’s use of natu re, like her inclusion of other recognizably Romantic themes, sounds quite Romantic. Li ke Wordsworth, when Austen chooses to involve nature as a force in her novels, important thematic lessons emerge. However, I will argue that her feminine way of addre ssing such themes makes her contributions groundbreaking for her time and brave considering he r precarious role as a female author.


7 CHAPTER 2 NATURE, GENDER, AND ROMANTICISM In her introduction to Romanticism and Gender , Anne Mellor asks several important questions that have become, for me, catalysts to an extended inquiry into Austen’s use of nature: How does gender function in the canonical te xts of masculine Romanticism? What shared definitions of the na ture and function of the fema le do we find in the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Bl ake, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, in their treatments of the imagination, of the creativ e process, of erotic love, of the development of the self …. (17) Mellor develops two conceptu al approaches to Romanticism – the masculine and the feminine—though she is quick to qualify her us e of the terms by explaining that they are tools for thinking about gender rather than rigi d constructs (3). She bases her formulation of masculine Romanticism on the writings of and thematic similarities between the six canonical male poets. She likew ise distinguishes the feminine Romantic by focusing on shared thematic emphasis: women writers tended to celebrate, not the achievements of the imagination nor the overflow of powerful feelings , but rather the workings of the rational mind, a mind relocated—in a gesture of revolutionary gender implications—in the female as well as male body. They thus insisted upon the fundamental equality of women and men. (2) Though Mellor does not mention nature in this portion of her discussion, she does recognize “the development of the self” as one of several key themes in both masculine and feminine Romantic literature (17). Simila rly, Clifford Siskin deals with development in his article, “A Formal Development: Austen, The Novel, and Romanticism,” by challenging assumptions about “the novel’s ‘rise ,’ and Romanticism’s ‘poetic’ nature” in


8 order to discuss Austen’s “innovative” focus on “development” (1). Siskin agrees with Walter Scott’s claim, in his 1816 review of Emma, that Austen contributed to the changing form of the novel by making characters and events in her novels more natural (“within the realm of possibility”), wh ich in turn placed more emphasis on the development of the individual (17). I will argue that the most intriguing simila rities involved each author’s treatment of the individual’s development in nature. Each author’s conceptualizat ion of gender subtly influences his or her treatment of both male and female characters in nature. Wordsworth espouses a masculine Romantic view, while Austen seems to exemplify Mellor’s definition of a feminine Romantic. I will fo cus my inquiry on two specific aspects of Mellor’s questions. I will ex plore the “nature and function of the female” in Wordsworth’s Prelude and a few poems from the Lyrical Ballads as well as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. In doing so, I hope to reveal the way Austen’s treatment of “the development of the self” revises Wordsworth’s masculine treatment of development into a comparatively less rigid construction of gender. In both cases, development happens through a relationship wi th nature accompanied by an expansion of the individual’s capacity for sympathy. The greatest difference between Wordsworth and Austen’s treatment of the individual’s relationship with nature exists in Austen’s emphasis on what I will call “female agency,” or the role of the fema le in the process of her own development (Page 25).1 1 Much of my argument depends upon an essentially feminist criticism of Wordsworth. To some, this may suggest a lack of appreciation or a dismissal of his work. On the contrary, my great appreciation for and love of Wordsworth’s poetry allowed me to approach Austen in a way that gave a fresh perspective to my readings of her novels.


9 Austen and the ‘Nature’ of Gender In Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women , Judith Page, like Mellor, places Wordsworth within the masculine Romantic tr adition. In order to crea te a subtler picture of Wordsworth’s conceptual ization of gender, however, Page focuses on his gendered representations of the s ublime and the beautiful: Even though there is a progression fro m solitude to community, Wordsworth chooses to highlight the opposition between the sublime and the beautiful . In emphasizing this opposition Wordsworth fo llows Burke, who contrasts the two terms in his theory and links them to gender. But whereas Burke’s dichotomy favors the sublime, and hence the masculine Wordsworth embraces both ways of experiencing the world. (14) In spite of this tendency to “embrace” both the sublime and the beautiful in nature, Page finds that Wordsworth’s poetry lacks an equi valent “female sublime,” which of course means that there is “no female identity apart from male perception” (25). Instead, “Wordsworth constructs both the sublime and th e beautiful, then, from a perspective that excludes the agency of the female” (25). And it is precisely this “agency of the female” that we find in Austen’s novels, where rath er than being “shaped or controlled by someone else,” women act on their own behalf and shape their own perceptions of the world and of themselves (25). Mellor agrees th at the masculine Romantic construct of the female does not allow for agency; within the “masculine Romantic ideology positive female characteristics—sensibility, compa ssion, maternal love—are metaphorically appropriated by the male poet, while attributes of difference—indepe ndence, intelligence, willpower, aggressive action—a re denigrated” (29). Though we might not consider the subtle self-initiated actions of Austen’s ch aracters to be particularly “aggressive,” we must consider any action taken by a woman that demonstrated her independence of


10 thought and her command of her own educati on to be a revolutionary action in this period.2 When discussing this trend of feminine ag ency, several Austen critics also find it necessary to define Austen in feminist te rms. They want to know if Austen was a feminist, and more recently, they want to de termine what type of feminism she promoted through her novels. Since my own argument fo cuses on the way Austen utilizes Romantic themes of nature in order to set forth an alternative—and decidedly feminine—view of development, these are important questions. But it does not seem pa rticularly useful simply to label Austen a ‘feminist,’ since th e term carries with it too many notions of modern feminism to be useful in the context of the Romantic period. I am more interested in the ways Austen participated in the ongoi ng discussion of “the female cause” during the long eighteenth-century. In Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction , Margaret Kirkham argues that Austen’s writing “deserves to be called feminist since it was concerned with establishing the moral equality of men and women and the prope r status of women as accountable human beings” (3). In fact, she cons iders that any woman who went to the effort of becoming a published author was committing “a femi nist act” (33). Eve Bannet, in The Domestic Revolution: Enlightenment Feminisms and the Novel , moves beyond this binary 2 Joseph Kestner, in “Jane Austen: The Tradition of th e English Romantic Novel, 1800-1832,” argues that the strongest common characteristic of Romantic novels is a tendency to de-emphasize plot in favor of a focus on character and interior motivations (300). Kestner also points toward the Romantic novelist’s desire to restrict or limit the physical boundaries of their stories, something Mary Mitford referred to as a “confined locality” (qt. in Kestner 303). He finds that these novels concerned themselves with “the reality of inheritance, marriage, entail, and social mobility , followed inevitably, with the special significance during the period through individual action,” though he does not see this action as being “involved with social responsibility,” or social change (306). Critics like Mellor who see Austen as a proponent of feminine Romanticism will find Austen’s emphasis on “individual action” inseparable from the sense of “social responsibility” and “social change”; for feminine Romantics, the individual’s power within the home is metonymous with the individual’s power in society.


11 classification (feminist/misogyni st) of the works of women in the long eighteenth century by focusing alternately upon their similaritie s and their differences. She considers all female writers with the common goal of im proving women’s lot to be Enlightenment feminists. However, she further distingui shes the members of this large group by subdividing them as Egalitarians and Matriarc hs. Egalitarians belie ved that women were equal to men, and “sought to level hierarchies both in the family and the state,” while Matriarchs promoted women’s superiority over men; both pointedly compared men and women’s capacity for sense and virtue (3). Both feminisms “understood what Clara Reeve called ‘the female cause,’ as a series of issues relating to th e government of ladies in the family” (7). While male social theorists were promoting men as the natural and proper sovereign of the home, Enlightenment fe minists set forth diffe rent visions of the way women could take back pow er in the domestic sphere. Bannet considered “the freedom to govern themselves”—which she also defines as “agency”—to be “a primary, or perhaps most fundamental, freedom that both these Enlightenment feminisms sought for women” (31, 14). Women accomplished this goal “by demanding, modeling, or engineering dom estic spaces where ladies could govern their own consciences, their own conduct, and their own lives” (31). They built their arguments on the notion that either God or Reason (or some combination of the two) constituted the ultimate authority to wh ich women submitted (36–8). By taking away men’s power to make moral decisions for wome n and recasting the structure of authority in women’s lives, Enlightenment feminists created an intellectual space for women to assert their abilities to reason, to learn a nd experience the same outcomes of education that men did, and to judge for themselv es which actions we re appropriate. Though


12 Bannet does not utilize her theories to do a clos e reading of any of Austen’s writings, her ideas about the way Enlightenment feminist writers created exemplary female characters to make their arguments have direct a pplication to much of Austen’s work. Kirkham and Bannet begin their argume nts on much the same terms—looking backward to the earlier state of women’s representation by philosophers, moralists, and novelists; considering th e influence of the Wollstonecraf t scandal; and qualifying writers of the long eighteenth century as Enlightenment feminists. However, Bannet does a much more subtle reading of the way Enlight enment feminists like Austen carefully manipulated current and popular ideologies in order to revi se them to make room for women. Kirkham believes that many of th e women writing after the Wollstonecraft scandal of 1798 “were at pains to deny that th eir wish to see girls taught to think carried any radical political implic ations” and that some “lik e Maria Edgeworth and Hannah More, were simply cautious to the point of half-denying the case they argued” (49). Bannet reads this caution differently, noting th at female writers like Austen who chose to set themselves up in the public domain as teachers and moralists had to “construct a respectable public role for themselves as moralists and social reformers,” but that “appropriation of this public role required Ma triarchs and Egalitarians to assume or invent a posture of conventiona lity” that is easy for modern feminist thinkers to misread3 3 For example, in Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development , Susan Fraiman discusses the idea of female development by attempting to shape an d define it according to masculine narratives of development; for this reason, she ends up arguing that it does not exist for women in the texts she reads. Though she claims that the “shoddy” construction of femininity “leaves room for alternative formations, for some degree of rude and re bellious agency within a complex set of restraints,” she fails to see that these “alternative formations” might contain evidence of female development and agency (Fraiman xi). In her attempts to fit Enlightenment feminist writers in the mold of modern feminist thinking, Fraiman loses the critical element of context in her assessments. As Bannet demonstrates, women did not need to be “rude and rebellious” in order to argue for agency; in fact, the subversive nature of their works may certainly be rebellious, but they knew their audience and the climate of their country too well to be openly rebellious. That Godwin lacked the sense to understand this climate when he published


13 (11). Instead, Bannet sets an example of r eading from a feminine perspective by looking for subversive implications within the conve ntional construction of women’s writings and arguments. As I read Austen, I make use of Bannet’s theories in order to examine the ways Austen takes conventions of Romanticism and subtly uses them to forward her own agenda for women. In her examination of Dora Wordsworth ’s works, Judith Page describes and illuminates Dora’s literary development in much the same way that I would like to revise our vision of Austen. Page sees Dora as a woman writer who sub tly appropriates the content of Wordsworth’s masculine Romantic vi ew of nature and then recasts it using the voice of her own perspec tive and experience (161).4 Austen’s representations of the individual in nature create a dialectical counterargument to those presented by her male contemporaries, like Wordsworth. The heroin es in her novels act to correct the male Romantic representation of women as passi ve agents in nature. Elizabeth Bennet, possessed of “a self-sufficiency without fashion,” spurns decorum in favor of filial affection when she takes a walk alone, “crossi ng field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impa tient activity” in orde r to assure herself that her sister is well (282, 70). Impressed as Darcy is by “the brilliancy which exercise had given her” he still “doubt[s] as to the o ccasion’s justifying her coming so far alone” (70). Later Elizabeth has enough “s elf-sufficiency” to “resolve … to indulge herself in air and exercise” by taking a “favourit e walk” in order to alleviate the distress she feels over Wollstonecraft’s memoirs merely reinforced this rea lity to the women writers still living as the scandal broke. 4 It is important to remember that Dora Wordsworth ne ver aspired to be the kind of public writer that Jane Austen was. Her writings were private in nature, in tended only for her immediate circle of family and friends.


14 Darcy’s letter (215). Both instances are ch aracterized by self-motivated action and a seemingly innate ease on Elizabeth’s part in her natural surroundings , an ease that is more visible when viewed in contrast to the attitudes of the other women in the novel (like Caroline and Louisa Bingley, along w ith Elizabeth’s younger sisters, and her mother), who spurn walking because it might ruin their appearance. Likewise, Austen contrasts Fanny Price’s comfort in nature and her perceptive a ttention to its beauty with Mary Crawford’s discomfort and lack of appreciation of her natural surroundings. While Fanny easily translates her admiration of the “growth and beauty” of the shrubbery at Mansfield Parsonage into an observation of “t he operations of time, and the changes of the human mind,” “Miss Crawford, untouched and inattentive, ha[s] nothing to say” (143). As I will later demonstr ate in more detail, Fanny even surpasses the male hero Edward in her ability to find moral lessons in nature. Austen’s Romanticism shows women as active agents within the social re alm as well as the natural world. Her female protagonists participate in their own moral and intellectual development; they make material changes in their own lives and the lives of those around them.


15 CHAPTER 3 WORDSWORTH AND THE AGENCY OF WOMEN Romantic Sympathy and Gender Anne Mellor finds that women in the Roma ntic period viewed nature in terms of “the family or the community”: “The y grounded their notion of community on a cooperative rather than possessive interaction with a Nature troped as a female friend or sister …” (3). Mellor goes on to conclude that the feminine Romantic’s basis for the “foundation of both the natura l and the human worlds” is “based on sympathy and likeness” (3). Austen’s heroines deve lop sympathy—or fellow feeling—with nature, which becomes a part of thei r internal moral development. As I examine Austen’s and Wordsworth’s treatments of sympathy, I hope to show the patterns of feminine and masculine Romanticism at work. The idea of sympathy is a relevant asp ect of both Wordsworth’s and Austen’s works, but subtle differences exist in the way sympathy functions in each. Where Wordsworth attempts to create objects of sympathy for the moral benefit of the reader, Austen creates dynamic relationships in wh ich both parties share feeling and insight. Austen develops a sense of mutual (both male and female) development of characters in her novels and a sense of kinship with the reader, by which both author and reader can learn and grow. Wordsworth creat es a hierarchical, teacher/st udent relationship with his readers by creating (mostly) female characte rs who become “objects” of sympathy, and (exclusively) male characters who become examples of moral development by observing “objects” of sympathy and in nature. The Prelude includes many examples of this type of


16 male development, and I will examine Wordsworth’s tendency to objectify women in detail through a reading of “The Ruined Cottage.” As Wordsworth begins to define the role of the poet and the role of poetry in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, he says that there is “ one other circumstance which distinguishes these Poems from the popular poetr y of the day; it is th is, that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, a nd not the action and situation to the feeling” ( 599). This feeling, in many cases, is the sympathy he hopes to develop in the reader. Though he does claim to focus on “situations from common life,” he makes it clear that he is less interested in the specific, local details of the lives of the people that he writes about than he is in the moral developm ent of his reader (596). Looking at many of Austen’s descriptions of nature, we see that her heroines tend to associate natural beauty with relationships and a moral development of sympathetic or shared feeling. We find an excellent example of this connection when the shy and quiet Fanny Price bursts forth with feeling as sh e observes and comments upon nature in her surroundings: [Edmund’s] eyes soon turned like her’s to wards the scene without, where all that was solemn and soothing, and lovely, app eared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shad e of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. ‘Here’s harmony!’ said she, ‘Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and music behind, and what poetry can only attempt to describe. Here’s what may tranquillize every care , and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if ther e could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.’ (80) Here we see the growing sympathy of feeli ng between Fanny and Edmund, evident in the way their eyes are “turned” and focuse d upon the same object. Fanny simultaneously takes pleasure in sharing her feelings with Edmund and in deriving an important moral


17 truth from her observation. She translates her sense of “tranquillity ” into a theory of communal feeling: the contempl ation of nature and the appr eciation of the sublime can directly affect relationships among people in society. Like Wordsworth, Austen believes that the individual has the capacity to learn to love humanity by developing a sympathetic relationship with nature. Fo r example, Book Eight of The Prelude is titled “Retrospect.— Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.” However, unlike Wordsworth, Austen choos es not to create a degree of separation between herself and her reader as she expl ores the theme of sympathy. Wordsworth’s removal of the narrative/poetic voice from the development of sympathy creates distance. Additionally, Austen’s heroines experience and commune with nature firsthand, rather than mediating the experience through memory and the creation of poetry as Wordsworth does. In the first book of The Prelude , Wordsworth sets out his vision of himself as a poet, a vocation he openly compares to the role of a Biblical prophet: This far, O Friend! Did I … Pour out, that day, my soul in measured stains, Even in the very words which I have here Recorded: to the open fields I told A prophecy : poetic numbers came Spontaneously, and clothed in priestly robe My spirit, thus singled out , as it might seem, For holy services : great hopes were mine (55, 57–63, emphasis added ) Wordsworth’s narrative communion with natu re places him in what he considers the unique position of prophet to his readers. He reinforces this concept in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads when he asks and answers his own que stion about what it means to be a


18 poet: “What is a poet? … He is a man speaki ng to men: a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm a nd tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul , than are supposed to be common among mankind” (603). Wordsworth’s repetition of “m ore” to describe the greater degree of “sensibility,” “enthusiasm and tenderness” he has when compared to “common” men elevates him above his readers. His deliberat e construction of the poetic vocation creates distance between his experiences and those of his readers because he positions himself in the role of their teacher and moral guide. Where Wordsworth elevates both himself as a Poet and Poetry in general, Austen remains silent on the subject of the role of the author in soci ety. Though she certainly makes clear claims about the value of fiction,1 she does not elevate herself or Authors in general above the experience and knowledge of her readers. When she discusses poetry, she expresses a clear appreciation for it, but warns readers of excessive poetic sensibility.2 She creates a distinctio n between the value of poetry and the risks of indulging in what she views as the mascul ine poetic tendency toward isolation and uncontrolled emotion. In Mansfield Park , Fanny’s sense of connection with nature “leaves all painting and music behind” and co mmunicates truths “poe try can only attempt 1 The narrator of Northanger Abbey relates the following well-known comment on the female authors: "Oh! It is only a novel!" … or, in short, only so me work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature , the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the bestchosen language.” (60) 2 Consider the extensive discussion of poetry in Persuasion in which Anne finds that Captain Benwick reads “the first rate poets,” yet notes that he tends to focus on “various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness” (67). Anne expresses her concern for the effect his inclination for depressing poetry has on his mental and emotional health; she worries that such poetry can “be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely” (6 8). Her recommendations for correcting this problem include “a larger allowance of prose in his daily study ” that will help him “rouse and fortify [his] mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances” (68).


19 to describe” (80). In keeping with the fe minine Romantic tradition, Austen alters Wordsworth’s inwardly focused contemplation of nature to a contemplation that carries people “out of themselves,” and improves th eir actions and feeli ngs toward others. Wordsworthian Development Like Austen, development through interaction with the natural world is foremost in Wordsworth’s agenda for his poetry; though, unlike Austen, his works suggest that he believes men develop differently from women.3 Throughout The Prelude of 18054 these two issues—mental and moral developmen t and a relationship with nature—are inextricably connected. In the two-part Prelude of 1799, he refers to his “point” or argument when he says, I should omit To speak of such effects as cannot here Be regularly classed, yet tend no less To the same point, the gr owth of mental power And love of Nature’s works. (I:254–58) As he traces the mental and emotional growth of the child into the poet, he emphasizes the importance of memory to the process of finding lessons in pe rsonal experience. The opening books of The Prelude include detailed descriptions of the forms and places that impressed themselves upon his consciousness enough to become strong memories. The speaker says that “the common face of Nature spake to me/ Rememberable things,” 3 I in no way mean to imply that Wordsworth made a conscious effort to differentiate between male and female experience. In many cases, I believe his male centered language merely reflects his belief that male experience stands for all human experience. However, through this discussion, I hope to demonstrate that in many cases, his works nonetheless reflect an essential gender inequality that is implied rather than stated. 4 Unless otherwise noted, all references to The Prelude indicate the 1805 edition.


20 which are “doomed to sleep/ Until maturer s easons called them forth/ To impregnate and to elevate the mind” (1:615–16, 622–24). Wordsw orth also makes a clear connection between the lessons of nature and his emotional development; “the scenes” he experiences in his youth are “by invisible links/ Allied to the affections” (1:639–40). Deep reflection upon images and experiences of the past are essential to Wordsworthian mental and moral development. Masculine Agency in Wordsworth What is missing in Wordsworth’s poetic journey toward maturity is gender equality; in his poems, men develop a stronge r morality and a deeper understanding of themselves than women do. Austen depict s women who are capable of developing a morality that is equal to, or sometimes superior to, that of the male characters. Comparatively, Wordsworth’s representations of male development include an element of independent agency—an ability to act in an d learn from nature without the support of other people—which his repres entations of female charac ter lack. For instance, the speaker of The Prelude responds to the many sights he sees by deciding … to deem myself A moral agent, judging between good And evil, not as for the mind’s delight But for her safety, one who was to act , … by human sympathy impelled (8:667–90, emphasis in original ) The speaker’s interactions with “objects which subdued/ And tempered” his youthful “pride of strength/ And the vain-glory of supe rior skill” have the e ffect of “temper[ing]” these flaws and “gradually produ c[ing]/ A quiet independence of the heart” (2:69–73). He suggests that he “was taught to feel, perhap s too much,/ The self-sufficing power of


21 solitude” (2:77–8). Though Wordsworth certai nly makes a place for community in his poetic ideal, his emphasis on development cente rs on the independent (male) individual. Austen centers her emphasis on development around the notion of equal male and female development, which, when properly produce d, creates an equal marriage and a sound domestic community. Feminine (Lack of) Agency in Wordsworth Unlike Austen, Wordsworth never attrib utes the “quiet independence,” selfsufficiency, or agency of the male poet to any of the women in his poems. Instead, women are presented as objects of pity, or as simple-minded beings with a limited capacity for experiencing the elevated feeli ngs and thoughts of the male poet. Throughout The Prelude , Wordsworth often directs the speake r’s focus toward a pitiable female object, and shows the way the speaker’s sympathy is develo ped by contemplating such a figure. At this time in his life, the speaker admits to a growing aw areness of sorrow and pain in the lives of many people around him. However, the “spectacle s” and “objects” he finds most intriguing are helpless women and the children who accompany them (7:430). He finds himself compelled by “images of danger, and di stress/ And suffering,” which take the “deepest hold” of his attention” (8:211–12). He notices “a Widow, staggering with the blow/ Of her distress,” who “was known to have made her way/ To the cold grave in which her husband slept” (8:532–34). He takes a moment to describe “Some Vagrant with her Babes” as he passes thr ough a town (8:552). This vagrant woman and widow are emblematic of most women in his poems. Neither survives the loss of the men in her life emotionally or physically intac t; both are objects of the poet’s quest for sympathy.


22 Some women in Wordsworth’s world serve no t only as objects of pity, but also as examples of feminine subservience and passivi ty. For example, the speaker finds himself fascinated with the sad tale of the “Maid of Buttermere,” who he describes, like so many other women in his story, as one imbued with “female modesty,” “dis cretion,” “patience, and retiredness of mind” (136–38). Like Margar et in “The Ruined Cottage,” Mary of Buttermere shows him hospitality and kindness in spite of the sadne ss that has touched her life. Wordsworth shows his characteristic detached philos ophical interest in the pain of others when he describes her current si tuation: “Happy are they both/ Mother and Child!” (359–60) In fact, Mary’s so–called happiness consists of the peace she is able to find by living near the church where her ch ild has been buried. Wo rdsworth interlaces Mary’s story with a descripti on of another male child he s ees among the “dissolute men/ And shameless women” (7:386–87) of London, and comments that he perhaps Mary! may now have lived till he could look With envy on thy nameless Babe that sleeps Beside the mountain chapel , undisturbed! (7:409–12) Apparently, in keeping with hi s sense of morality, the child w ould be better off dead than living among the vices and noise of the city. Even when Wordsworth makes the rare shift from the female to a male object of pity, he tends to objectify rather than symp athize with the subject. For example, in Book Seven of The Prelude when he is “smitten with the view/ Of a blind Beggar” he admits that “it seemed/ To me that in this Label was a type,/ Or emblem, of the utmost that we know” (7:611–12, 617–19). Though his attention to the poor and needy who existed in


23 his time clearly belies critical accusations that he omitted certain social realities,5 Wordsworth nonetheless turns his firstha nd experiences with poverty and physical hardship into an objective image from which he can extract a moral lesson. This use of men and women in terms of their ability to function as a “Label,” a “type,” or an “emblem” reemphasizes the distance he places between himself and the reader. In what might be one of Wordsworth’s most beautiful and complex poems, “The Ruined Cottage,” we see one of many exam ples of Wordsworth’s representations of passive women. As he does in the Lucy poe ms, where “Lucy is always shaped or controlled by someone else,” Wordsworth pres ents Margaret as a helpless victim whose every action is merely a response to the action of another person, whose very being depends upon the presence of her husband (Page 25). As she examines gender implications in Wordsworth’s poems, Page em phasizes both Lucy’s and Margaret’s lack of agency “in contrast to the heroic story of the growth of the poet’s mind” (25). What can this tale of a suffering old woman relate to us about development? When asked in this way, this question forces the reader to see th at the focus of the poem is the development of the speaker rather than that of the female subject of the poem, Margaret. The speaker of the poem meets an “aged Ma n” who tells the story of Margaret, the “last human tenant” of the co ttage (33, 492). Her entire life story is therefore twice mediated before it reaches the reader – on ce by the old man and once by the speaker of the poem. The structures of both the story and the poem create a situation in which two men tell a woman’s story, which means that Margaret inhabits her own story as a 5 I refer here to critical accusations focused on the omi ssion of the homeless in Wo rdsworth’s poetic vision of the real Tintern Abbey.


24 feminine object in a masculine narrative. Si nce she is dead when both the poem and the narrative begin, we have no access to her voice , her experience, or her perspective. Margaret’s silence and helplessness seem to be one of her most appealing qualities in this poem; by proclaiming themselves symp athetic to her plight, both the old man and the speaker are able to indul ge freely in their emotional and philosophical ruminations over her life while avoiding any claim that they find “pleasure” in he r miserable situation. In fact, their very state of freedom—the ir ability to wander throughout the country without any accusations of leaving their homes to the “sleepy hand of negligence”—must make it less likely that they can truly sympat hize with her situati on (401). The speaker’s emphasis on learned sympathy reveals the real purpose of the poem – to create a situation wherein the sympathies can be invoked and enlarged at the expense of Margaret’s suffering. Wordsworth describes the cottage in a way that connects it to the character, experiences and physical person of “poor Marg aret” (99). Wordsworth ties Margaret’s physical presence and personal character tra its to her home, making her and her home a symbol of feminine domesticity; during he r life she provides a refuge for men who wander through the world outside the home, a nd after her death her story provides an opportunity for moral development for the sa me men. Wordsworth’s view of masculine versus feminine development is eviden t in the way the narrator openly condemns Margaret for her “wandering,” while im plicitly approving of the same kind of “wandering” behavior as it is displayed by the male characte rs in the poem. Apparently, when a woman wanders, it is evidence of a regression into mental instability and a neglectful attitude toward her domestic duties, however, when a man wanders, he fulfills


25 part of a natural masculine drive to expl ore and contributes to his own positive moral development. Through the old man’s words of advice to the speaker, we also learn the overall purpose of the poem, which he will revisit in the second to last stanza: “Sympathies there are / More tranquil, yet perh aps of kindred birth, / That steal upon the meditative mind / And grow with thought” (79–82). Wordsworth wants the reader to meditate on the images from the story in order to gain insi ght into human nature and to learn sympathy. When worded this way, the idea sounds a lo t like Wordsworth’s of ten quoted discussion of the use of emotion in poetry in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads : “Poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety but by a man, who being possessed of more than usual organic sensib ility, had also thought long and deeply. For our continued influxes of fee ling are modified and directed by our thoughts” (598). In short, the point or goal of the poem is to demonstrate, through the experience of the speaker, the way an individual develops sy mpathy by entering into the suffering of others. The problem with Wordsworth’s poetic goal is that the poem creates sympathy at the expense of Margaret’s suffering. Wordswor th excludes Margaret from developing the lofty emotional and intellectual state valorized by the speaker. The speaker relegates Margaret’s emotions to the beautiful, the picturesque and the tr agic, but they never develop into the empowering moral heights re served for the male speaker and hero of Wordsworth’s poems. In contrast, Austen allows her characters to develop their moral and intellectual faculties without objectifying women or denying them a voice in their own demise. Even Emma, snobbish and superior as she is, activ ely makes a difference in the lives of the


26 poor and abandoned women in her neighborhood.6 She interacts with them and speaks their names. She learns to show heartfelt sympathy toward those women, like Miss Bates, who have been marginalized by their lack of male protection. Margin al and marginalized characters like Miss Bates in Emma , or Mrs. Smith in Persuasion speak and tell their own stories, choose to relate their experience for the benefit of others, and are rewarded by the real sympathy of others. AustenÂ’s heroines also speak for themselves; they make mistakes and learn from them, thereby deve loping into sounder moral characters. They identify not only with the estates in which they live, but with th e natural world around them. Their wandering away from home leads them through the lessons that make them better, more compassionate people, able to participate in companionate marriages and take their places at the center of morally sound domestic communities. 6 I do not mean to imply that Emma represents a revolu tionary approach to the comp lex social issues of the period. AustenÂ’s novels give only marginal notice of the poor and socially disenfranchised, whereas Wordsworth examines the complex problems associated with poverty in a number of ways throughout his poetry. My focus here is the degree of agency each author gives women in their texts.


27 CHAPTER 4 AUSTEN’S “FEMININE ROMANTICISM” Revising Wordsworth: Austen’s Romantic Heroine If Wordsworth shows the deve lopment of the male self through the enlargement of the capacity for sympathy—though at the expe nse of objectified women—Austen shows the development of the male and female se lf through an increased understanding of the individual’s relationship with both the natural and social world. In her early novels, Austen uses nature in this way in a limited capacity.1 When we meet Elizabeth Bennet, near the end of Austen’s early period, we be gin to see a more direct connection between the relationship of the heroine with nature and her mental and moral development. Though Elizabeth frequently spends time out of doors throughout th e novel, the greatest changes in her understanding occur after periods of solitude spent on long walks throughout the grounds of two great estates – Rosings and Pemberley. Fanny Price has 1 In Northanger Abbey , Catherine Moreland’s sense of nature is limited to socially prescribed modes of viewing; she is taught by a man to view nature in aesthetic terms, though Austen is clearly poking fun at current trends in art and at women’s tendency to abandon their innate intuition in favor of male dictates on a subject. Upon admitting her ignorance of the rules of the picturesque to Henry Tilney, “a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructio ns were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in every thing admired by him, and her attention was so earnest, that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste” (125). Catherin e’s character changes for the better because she learns to revise her perceptions about the world around her, though this world is primarily a social one. Her limited experience in nature has little influence on her moral development. In Sense and Sensibility , Austen demonstrates her distaste for affected admiration of nature through Elinor Dashwood, who observes that Edward “believes many people pretend to more admiration of the beauties of nature than they really feel. … He is fastidious, and w ill have an affectation of his own." (58). Edward’s personalized admiration of nature captures Elinor’s he art, and she is steadfast in her affections throughout the novel. The change in her character centers on the wa y she learns to allow room within her reasoning for her emotions. Though Austen loosely ties the overwrought sensibilities of Marianne with her highly vocal appreciation for nature, Elinor’s experiences in nature have a limited, though clearly positive, influence on her.


28 perhaps the closest re lationship with nature of any of Austen’s heroines. Though she sometimes seems to be a character who develops very little in the course of the novel, closer examination reveals the way the na tural world surrounding her at Mansfield— another great estate—guides her internal development and expands outwardly to influence those around her. Austen’s emphasis on nature within the estate shows that she connects her ideas of domestic happiness with her sense of England’s countryside, but she does so in ways that value a reco nnection with a small domestic community.2 In this way, she revises Wordsworth’s solitary and ma sculine view of deve lopment in nature into a feminine one, something Anne Mellor calls “feminine Romanticism.” In order to make room for female experience; Austen s hows that women are just as capable as men of developing into morally superior beings. Mellor broadly defines “feminine Romantic ism” by examining the works of those novelists who follow in the revolu tionary tradition promoted in A Vindication of the Rights of Women ” (41). Mellor points out Wollstonecraf t’s claims that women were kept in “a state of perpetual childhood” and that they were “created to feel, not to think” (9, 62). Austen writes within this tradition, though she makes use of the masculine Romantic emphasis on feeling in a way that still manages to place a higher value on female reason than on feeling. Her novels show the evoluti on of the woman from a state of childish belief and action into a woman who consciously utilizes her feelings to develop her mind. 2 Gene Ruoff suggests that Austen developed her endings around the notion of community, or on a group of people centered on the couple featured in the novel.2 In this way, he finds Austen’s similarity to the Romantic poets, particularly to Wordsworth. Ruoff notes that at the end of Pride and Prejudice , “to a large extent, even the idea of society, in all its stratification complexity, has been displaced by the idea of community … For all their palpable differences, Pemberley has the same kind of meaning for Jane Austen that Grasmere has for Wordsworth: it is an organizing point for a society that has possessed only semblances of order. If it is a retreat, it is also a cent er for continuing moral regeneration” (343). In all of Austen’s novels, Ruoff suggests that it is not the actual location that matters, but the people in it who form a domestic community (343).


29 Alison G. Sulloway appears to agree with Mellor; in her artic le “Emma Woodhouse and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman ,” Sulloway compares Austen to Wollstonecraft and finds their similar “desire that women be trained to think rati onally” a “subversive—and therefore Romantic desire” (320). 3 Austen’s feminine Romanticism is evident in the way that her heroines must learn to “think rationally” within the context of unstable and, in many cases, immoral family structures. In short, they do not gain thei r sense of morality through their families or through their close social circ les. Bannet views the way many female authors of the long eighteenth century characterized fa milies as a subversive criticism of their role as a ‘safe’ place for women to develop: Eighteenth-century philosophi es … may valorize paternalistic benevolence towards dependents, the pleasures of domes ticity … blandly virtuous daughters, innocuously deferential wives, and stable harmonious families whose members conscientiously perform their duties each to each, but they descri be the reality of marriage and family life in almost opposite terms. (17) Austen, in only Pride & Prejudice and Mansfield Park , presents readers plentiful examples of disharmonious families and characters of questionable moral quality. We see the immoral sexual liaisons of Lydia Bennet with Wickham, and Maria Bertram with Henry Crawford; we see several characters in various stages of pursuing marriage for purely mercenary purposes, including Mr. Wickham, Charlotte Lucas, Miss Bingley, Mary Crawford, and both Bertram sisters. We see the dissipated lifestyle of Mr. 3 Sulloway qualifies her comparison by claiming that Austen’s Tory loyalties and her use of ironic humor belie any serious attempt on the part of critics to place her among “overt Romantic” authors, where apparently even Wollstonecraft belongs as a result of her attempted suicide (321). Yet, Sulloway struggles with her own polarized definitions of what it means to be ‘Romantic,’ because she backtracks to admit that many of Austen’s themes “were th e common property of Romantic wr iters” and even speculates, “the insistence of Austen and Wollstonecraft that women’s distressed condition is the subject for serious literature may well be analogous to Wordsworth’s insistence that peas ants, leech-gatherers, and shepherds are worthy of serious attention” (321, 22).


30 Wickham, Tom Bertram, and his friend Yates, as well as the negative consequences each suffers. As for parenting, Elizabeth’s moth er is silly and vain and both she and Mr. Bennet grossly ignore the edu cation of their daughters. Aside from being subtly implicated in the practice of slave ownership in the West Indies, Sir Thomas fails to give affectionate guidance to his da ughters, choosing to ensure their education in the feminine arts while completely ignoring their mora l education. Likewise, we see the gross inadequacy of Fanny’s mother, Lady Bertra m, and the self-serving and manipulative Aunt Norris to help educate any of the Be rtram or Price children. Readers of Austen know that she includes similar examples of unstable families in all her novels, while she carefully distinguishes the wi ser paths her heroines choose to take. The critical choices Austen’s characters make determine their level of happiness and contentment by the end of the novels. In Austen, choi ce—or agency—is everything. Mellor describes Austen’s novels as a “subtle and yet most compelling representation of the crosscurrents in femini ne Romanticism,” because they are “novels of female education, novels in which an intellig ent but ignorant girl le arns to perceive the world more accurately, to understand more fully the ethical complexity of human nature and society, and to gain confidence in the wi sdom of her own judgment” (53). Austen’s heroines develop into rational creatures , however, by making a journey through their natural surroundings that prompts them to explore their thoughts and feelings, which ultimately results in a clearer understanding of both. Her characters learn to discern the difference between feelings that generate prope r action and feelings th at are destructive to their own well-being. Elizabeth must learn to judge correctly between her emotion-based but incorrect first impressions and her true fe elings, which inspire a development of true


31 sympathy and a healthy connection with others . Likewise, Fanny allows her feelings to be inspired by, and developed in, the countryside around her. As she encounters various situations in which she must determine wh ich action is morally sound, Fanny learns to rely more firmly upon the feelings she learned in nature. Elizabeth’s Development in Nature In Pride and Prejudice , both Elizabeth and Darcy undergo marked character developments. These changes are important, pa rticularly those in the character of Mr. Darcy, because they occur as the result of Elizabeth’s influen ce—not her feminine charms or her virtue but her mental powers of persuasion. Darcy and Elizabeth influence each other in a radically equal way, which in itself is a significan t development of the marriage plot in the Romantic period. As Ba nnet says, “In the Egalitarian imaginary of the family, men and women live together as pe rsons of equal sense, who have the same right and authority to direct each other’s conduct” (51). Nonetheless, the most important char acter developments we observe in Pride and Prejudice belong to Elizabeth Bennet, since the narrator focuses the story primarily on her throughout the text. Careful reading reve als that many of the important changes in Elizabeth’s character coincide with time spen t in a modestly Wordsworthian nature, both observing it and interacting with it. But un like the women in Wordsworth, Elizabeth’s development is distinctly female; the r eader experiences it through Elizabeth’s consciousness. The changes she undergoes prep are Elizabeth to be an equal in her marriage with Darcy. We first learn of Elizabeth’s inclination fo r the outdoors when Jane is taken ill after her mother’s “lucky idea” of se nding her out in the rain in or der to secure an extensive visit at Netherfield. At this point, Elizabeth does not revel in nature for the purpose of


32 Romantic reflection; she merely enjoys the simple pleasure of it. It takes a crisis later in the novel to force her to make use of he r connectedness with the outdoors for higher purposes. When her mother voices the objection th at she “will not be fit to be seen” by the ladies at Netherfield, Elizabeth assures he r that her only concern is to see Jane, and she adds that she does “not wish to avoid th e walk. The distance is nothing, when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner” (69). Her last statement implies that she thinks nothing of walking twice the dist ance in one day, or six miles. Once she sets off on her walk, we see Elizabeth for one of the first times in the novel alone and in nature. Here, her outdoor activ ity is not reflective or pe rsonal; instead it shows her intimate connection with her sister and to show the reader a bi t of her resilient character: Elizabeth continued her walk alone, cro ssing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddl es with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ancles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exerci se. … She was shown into the breakfastparlour, where all but Jane were assemb led, and where her appearance created a great deal of surprise.—That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was convinced th at they held her in contempt for it. (70) She is right. After Elizabeth leaves the pa rlour, “Miss Bingley began abusing her … Her manners were pronounced to be very bad i ndeed, a mixture of pride and impertinence” (72). Miss Bingley is most vocal in her displ easure at Elizabeth’s se lf-motivated action in nature: “To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles. Or whatever it is, above her ancles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to shew an abominable sort of conceited independe nce, a most country town indifference to decorum” (73). Miss Bingley reads Elizabeth’s behavior as a sign of her “independence” of character. Since most of Miss Bingley’s na sty comments are rooted in jealousy, perhaps


33 we can conclude that she secretly envies Elizabeth’s freedom to initiate action based upon her own inclinations rather than acting solely as the re sult of the expectations of others. The arrogant reaction of the ladies inside Netherfiel d contrasts with those of the gentlemen and provides a double commentary on both their admiration of Elizabeth’s character and the physic al attractiveness of an active wo man. Mr. Bingley responds to his sister’s comments by defending Elizabeth’s moti ves; walking so far “shews an affection for her sister that is very pl easing” (73). Darcy adds that he r eyes “were brightened by the exercise” (73). While readers know that Mi ss Bingley’s comments are motivated by her envy toward any other object of Darcy’ s wandering eyes, we also note that the gentlemen’s comments emphasize the true nature of Elizabeth’s actions and intentions. In contrast, the ladies’ comments allow Austen to create a vivid picture of the negative character developed by women who are disconn ected from nature and who find the false trappings of society more comforta ble than their ow n countryside. Once she travels away from her unsettled home, we see Elizabeth’s propensity for internal reflection, beginning w ith her visit to the Collins’ home and the simple comment on the part of the narrator that “Elizabeth in the solitude of her chamber had to meditate upon Charlotte’s degree of conten tment” (184). For perhaps one of the first times the light and cheerful Elizabeth fi nds herself alone contemplati ng serious subjects. It turns out to be the first of many such solitary meditations in which Elizabeth must use her mental and emotional faculties to determin e the rightness of a s ituation and her own response to it. At times, these meditations occu r in nature, at others they do not. Whether the mode and method of her mediations is a result of her development within the time span of the book or her inte raction with nature is somewhat unclear. Generally,


34 Elizabeth’s development is more a product of her interaction with va rious situations and people in her social circle, combined with specific instances of self-reflection. This element of self-reflecti on anticipates the deeper stat e of introspection Austen will develop in the character of Fanny Price in Mansfield Park . Austen draws a more obvious connection between Fanny’s moral development and her relationship with nature than she does with Elizabeth. For Elizabeth, instances of insightful reflection often merely seem to coincide with her walks in nature, as though Austen subconsciously associated natural spaces with contemplati on. Nonetheless, Elizabeth’s most important developments as a character do take place in na ture and are connected intimately with the English countryside, a pattern that Austen de velops in greater deta il in the life of Fanny Price. Elizabeth’s walk in the park adjacent to the Collins’ home serves as the turning point of the entire novel, the exact “spot” and “hour” and “words”—to use Darcy’s phrasing—where and when Elizabeth disc overs not her love for Darcy, but the improvements she must make in her thinking in order to deserve the happiness she receives at the end of the novel (378). As she does at other points in the novel, Elizabeth finds her mind ill at ease and must get out of doors to exert herself phys ically to clear her head. The narrator notes that Elizabeth is a wa lker and that during her visit to Hunsford she soothes herself by expl oring the surrounding grounds. Elizabeth awoke the next morning to th e same thoughts and meditations which had at length closed her eyes … it was impossi ble to think of anything else, and totally indisposed for employment, she resolved s oon after breakfast to indulge herself in air and exercise. She was proceeding dire ctly to her favourite walk, when the recollection of Mr. Darcy’s sometimes co ming there stopped her, and instead of entering the park, she turned up the lane, wh ich lead her farther from the turnpike road. … After walking two or three time s along that part of the lane, she was tempted, by the pleasantness of the morning, to stop at the gates and look into the


35 park. The five weeks which she had now passed in Kent, had made a great difference in the country, and every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees. (215) Two parts of this passage bear a re markable resemblance to passages in Mansfield Park : Elizabeth’s temptation into another part of th e park is similar to the group at Sotherton who find themselves at an outdoor barrier “t empted” onward into farther reaches of the park (71); also, Elizabeth’s noti ce of the progress of growth in the trees during her stay is very similar to Fanny’s comments on the grow th of the greenery at Mansfield Parsonage (143). Such resonances point toward Austen’s developing th ought process in associating nature with the growth of the mind. As Eli zabeth contemplates her changing view of Darcy in the park at Hunsford, her comment s on the growth of the trees reflects the development of her mind in much the same way that Fanny Price links changes in her shrubbery with those common to human nature . Austen has begun to connect the idea of natural growth with mental and emo tional growth by the time she writes Pride and Prejudice . At this point in her walk, Elizabeth re ceives the letter from Darcy, who has been waiting for her along the path. She begins “pur suing her way along the lane” as she reads and deliberates over the letter that becomes th e catalyst for her internal transformation: what a contrariety of emotion they [the c ontents of the letter] excited. Her feelings as she read were scarcely to be defined …. In this perturbed state of mind, with thoughts that could rest on not hing, she walked on; but it would not do; in half a minute the letter was unfolded again, and collecting herself as well as she could, she again began the mortifying perusal of all that related to Wickham, and commanded herself so far as to examine the meaning of every sentence. (223–4) The significance of this passage lies in Austen’s combinati on of the act of reading and reflection upon that reading in nature. This unique pairing of ac tivities symbolizes Austen’s highest ideals for moral developm ent—the proper applic ation of sound, true


36 ideas learned from reading and the reflection upon those ideas within the context of the real or actual world. What and how a person reads, combined with the place and manner in which a person is brought up—if chosen co rrectly—can constitute an ideal education in Austen’s novels. We see the strength of th is assertion in earlie r commentary on reading and libraries throughout the novel. We know, of course, that Darcy thinks the perfectly accomplished woman should “yet add something mo re substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading” (76).4 Miss Bingley, in spite of her possession of all the accomplishments expected of the women of her day, becomes an object of ridicule for Austen because of her simple attitude to ward reading; during a typical evening at Netherfield, she tells the group, “I declare after all that there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book!” (90). Conversely, a character like Mary demonstrates a commitment to reading difficult materials, yet Austen finds equal room for satire in Mary because of her inability to translate her learning into any useful activity. Unexpectedly, one of the mo st interesting character studies relating to education and reading, nature a nd nurture, comes in the form of the narrator’s comments on Mr. Collins’ upbringing: Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the de ficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or so ciety; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; a nd though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjecti on in which his father had brought him up, had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-con ceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feeling of early a nd unexpected prosperity. (104) 4 He backs this up by possessing an extensive library of his own at Pemberley, one that “has been the work of many generations” (75).


37 Austen makes a great deal of Mr. Collins’ e ndeavors in nature. We know he spends much time in his garden and prides himself on its productivity. Nonetheless, once we read this passage, we see that Austen views a comb ination of educated reading and a proper relationship with nature as re quirements for the creation of a balanced character. In this case, Austen is clearly less idealistic than Wordsworth a bout the primacy of nature’s influence on the individual. She argues for a balance of reading and social education in order to create a truly balanced moral charac ter. As Elizabeth walks through the natural beauty of her “favourite walk,” she reads Da rcy’s letter, thereby correcting her wayward thinking much in the same way her words se rve as a corrective for Darcy’s improper pride and haughty behavior. Comparatively, all the time Mr. Collins spends in his garden cannot make up for his complete lack of soci al understanding and hi s poor education. Memory, Development, and Feminine Agency Elizabeth’s development turns upon several crucial events in the text, and while each happens at moments of solitary contempl ation, each also involves the invocation of memory. As she considers the way Darcy’s lette r must necessarily al ter her perception of past events, she considers her view of Mr . Wickham based on her memories of him: She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might re scue him … She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approba tion of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gain ed him in the mess. (224–5) As we look toward Mansfield Park , we might note that the memory in Pride and Prejudice seems to be nearly infallible – a simple matter of file recovery, to use a modern term. In Mansfield Park , Austen takes a more mature approach to memory; it becomes as changeable and fallible as humans can be. None theless, we see memory serving the same


38 basic function in both works – to unearth the internal changes needed within the protagonist. The combined effects of her connection with nature and the use of her memory lead Elizabeth into the self-revelation that form s the climax of the novel: “‘How despicably have I acted!’ … “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! … Till this moment, I never knew myself” (226–7). This revelation is the ultimate goal of memory and contemplation in nature; her most significan t change of character is an increased knowledge of herself. Once Elizabeth knows hers elf, she can enter in to a relationship as an equal, something her father understands she must have in order to be truly happy: “I know your disposition, Lizzy. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband; unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage” (375). Though we understand that Elizabeth’s livelines s is a reflection of her strong will, her sense of humor, and her intelligence, we also understand that she must have an intellectual command of herself in order to be an equal partner in Austen’s ideal companionate marriage. Elizabeth is, from the opening of Pride and Prejudice , a woman who clearly thinks and acts on her own behalf. Her solitary reflections in nature fuel her mental and moral development and ultimately make her an even stronger and more rational woman whose actions can now influence an entire social circle, or community. In the tradition of feminine Romanticism as defined by Anne Mellor, Elizabeth becomes a positive influence in the lives of her sister s and her immediate community by making use of the resources available to her as the mist ress of Pemberley. As a result of the lessons each character learns throughout the novel, both Elizabeth and Darcy continue to


39 complement one another as equals, which makes them a model of AustenÂ’s sense of domestic happiness and equality.


40 CHAPTER 5 FEMININE ROMANTICISM AND MANSFIELD PARK Though absent long, These forms of beauty have not been to me, As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye: But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din Of towns and cities, I have owed to them, In hours of weariness, sensations sweet, Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart, And passing even into my purer mind With tranquil restoration:—feelings too Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps, As may have had no trivial influence On that best portion of a good man’s life; His little, nameless, unremembered acts Of kindness and of love… (“Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” 24–31) ****************************** His eyes soon turned like her’s toward s the scene without, where all that was solemn and soothing, and lovely appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. ‘Here’s harmony!’ said she, ‘Here’s repose! Here ’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe. Here’s what may tranquillize every care , and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if ther e could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene…’ ( Mansfield Park 80)


41 Fanny Price is not a favorite among Au sten fans, who tend to see her as emotionally distant and passive. Fanny show s some emotion when Edmund betrays his feelings toward Miss Crawford, but not enough to satisfy readers who want her to say or do something assertive rather than suffer in silenc e. Fanny’s bursts of chatter and feeling happen in natural settings, when she’s rhaps odizing about evergreen trees, or giving way to rapture over the sight of a cloudless night sky, as in the passage above. While these moments may frustrate a romantic reader wish ing for a livelier heroine, they reveal an author grounded in the Romantic period whos e novels engage the l iterary ideas of her time. Ultimately, Austen’s development of this theme grants Fanny a feminine Romantic (if not modern feminist) strength of moral character. Fanny makes two very important symbolic ge stures in the simple scene above: she turns her eyes from the drawi ng room “towards the scene wit hout,” to admire nature, then she “sp[eaks] her feelings,” which are a di rect emotional respons e to the “solemn and soothing” images she sees. As a result, Fanny vocalizes the influence of nature’s “tranquillity” and “harmony” and brings it into the domestic space of the home. The words Fanny uses to describe nature—“ soothing,” “harmony,” “repose,” and “tranquillize”—are traditionall y domestic words. By descri bing nature in this way, Austen suggests that the orig in of domestic order is natu ral order and that people learn both by contemplating and by observi ng beauty in the natural world. Looking from Pride and Prejudice to Mansfield Park allows readers to gain a sense of Austen’s own development as an author; in her later works, we see an increased emphasis upon the individual’s moral and intellectual development in nature. While Pride and Prejudice focuses on character development, Mansfield Park shows a character


42 developing her moral sense of self through her interactions in nature. Fanny Price’s moral growth represents a tr iumph of feminine Romanticism si nce it is through nature that she finds her voice and the ability to assert he rself; in doing so, Fanny becomes the moral center of the domestic circle at the Mansfield estate. The Function of Memory in Development Both Austen and Wordsworth make use of the word tranquility and the concept of memory throughout their works. The way each author defines these concepts helps clarify the way he or she views human deve lopment in nature. When we compare them we can see that Austen alters Wordsworth’s use of the terms to place greater emphasis on community and her heroine’s relationship with nature. In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads , William Wordsworth defines poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” but clarifies his clai m by adding that “it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tr anquillity gradually disappe ars” (14). For Wordsworth, tranquility achieved through meditation on memories can be a mediating force between emotion and creativity; the poet transcends the passive state of tranqui lity in order to do the creative work of poetry. We see this proce ss in “Tintern Abbey” and in several other poems in the Lyrical Ballads . The speaker contemplates “forms of beauty” which have been “absent long,” using his memory in orde r to recall the images and thereby receive the benefits of their “tranquil restoration.” In Mansfield Park , Jane Austen frequently uses th e word tranquility to describe scenes of domesticity, the natural world, or moments when her characters experience emotional peace. For Austen, tranquility repres ents a desirable state for the mind and the home that mirrors the peaceful state of nature ; therefore, nature provides the template for


43 mental and domestic comfort. From Fanny’s perspective, quiet evenings spent at home with Lady Bertram seem enjoyable: “She talked to her, listened to her, read to her; and the tranquillity of such evenings, her perfect security in such a tête-à-tête from any sound of unkindness, was unspeakably welcome to a mind which had seldom known a pause in its alarms or embarrassments” (27, emphasis added ). Austen’s characters often experience “disturbed” tranquil ity, or “agitation” when they are harassed, embarrassed, angry, or in great emotiona l distress. For example, wh en Fanny suggests that Mr. Crawford’s unwelcome pursuit of her resemble s his conquest of her cousins, she says, “he evidently tried to please her—he was gallant—he was attentive—he was something like what he had been to her cousins: he wanted, she supposed, to cheat her of her tranquillity as he had cheated them” (178). Howeve r, positive emotions, like the happy flush of uncertain love, or excitement about a quick flow of events can also create agitation and end tranquilit y. The narrator describes Fanny’s excitement about her brother’s arrival at Mansfield in almost negative terms: It was long before Fanny could recover from the agitating happiness of such an hour as was formed by the last thirty mi nutes of expectati on and the first of fruition; it was some time even before her happiness could be said to make her happy, before the disappointment insepara ble from the alteration of person had vanished, and she could see in him the same William as before. (160, emphasis added ) Similarly, it takes Fanny a great d eal of time to recover her calm after he takes his leave: A good night’s rest improved her spirits. Sh e could think of William the next day more cheerfully, and as the morning affo rded her an opportun ity of talking over Thursday night with Mrs. Grant and Miss Cr awford, in a very handsome style, with all the heightenings of imagination … sh e could afterwards bring her mind without much effort into its everyday state, and easily conform to the tranquillity of the present quiet week. (194) In Mansfield Park , as in several other novels, Austen’s characters regain their tranquility by engaging in regular and us eful activities, by reconnecting with the calm and quiet of


44 the country, and by engaging themselves in their domestic community. For Austen, nature is the mediating force between unr uly emotions and domestic tranquility. Memory, however, plays a slightly different role in Austen’s novels than it does in Wordsworth’s poetic theory. Though both authors engage memories of places in order to evoke powerful emotion, Wordsworth claims to involve memory in a lone creative act, while Austen’s use of memory usually involve s a reconnection with domestic tranquillity and a sense of community based on a set of relationships. In “Tintern Abbey,” the speaker recovers his memories of the “f orms of beauty” in order to experience tranquillity, whereas in Mansfield Park Fanny’s experience both of nature and the tranquillity it imparts are immediate. Th e only time Fanny experi ences relief through memory occurs when she shares her memories with others, as in th e example of retelling the events of the ball mentioned above, or her shared childho od memories with her brother. When she finds herself stranded in Portsmouth, Fanny remembers the beauty of Mansfield with longing, but her unshared me mories do not have the same restorative power they have for the speaker in “Tintern Abbey,” who can feel “s weet sensation” even “in lonely rooms.” Accord ing to the narrator of Mansfield Park , “The elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony—and perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield, were brought to her remembrance every hour of the day, by the prevalence of every thing opposite to them here” in Portsmouth (266). Fanny’s memories emphasize the unhappiness of her current situation by c ontrasting them with the tranquility of Mansfield—a subtle, but clear difference from the effect created by the speaker of the Wordsworth poem. Wordsworth’s “tranquil restorat ion” is available in the present, and is a direct result of the speake r’s recollection of his experi ences with nature. Fanny has no


45 “sweet sensations” in Portsmouth to soothe her homesickness for Mansfield; and while her experiences in natu re may have had a similar influe nce on her while she was having them, she is unable to translate that pleas ure into the present through her memory. She must return to Mansfield in order to receive the benefits of the forms of nature there.1 Gene Ruoff locates Austen’s place with in Romanticism by studying her narrative structure in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park . Ruoff discusses a formulation of romantic narrative based on Wordsworth ’s explanation of poetry in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads : “the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation, and not the action and situation to the feeling” (599) . He believes that Romantic narratives “de-emphasize action… by muting it (Simon Lee, Michael, Persuasion ) or spoofing it (Idiot Boy, Northanger Abby )” (“Sense of a Beginning” 176). Through a careful reading of Pride and Prejudice , Ruoff shows a pattern of dramatic action followed by reflection that results in growth and positive change on the part of a main character. He says that the difference between the external action and the internal lives of the characters creates a “formal disjunction” in Romantic novels and poems. When he moves from his examination of Pride and Prejudice to Mansfield Park , he observes that Austen “giv[es] Fanny more space for growth than any of her other heroines” by allowing her more frequent appearances in the novel and by shifting more frequently between action and reflection as a means of enhanci ng character development. I would add that 1 Beth Lau, in “ Sense and Sensibility and Tintern Abbey : Growth and Maturation,” notes a similar return to home as a necessary component of Marianne’s developments: “As in ‘Tintern Abbey,’ the return to a familiar landscape associated with an earlier stage of life and a passionate first attachment provokes a meditation in which Marianne compares her present w ith her past self. Both Marianne and Wordsworth’s speaker review their personal growth in the presence of a beloved sister who assi sts their acceptance of the passage from youth to maturity” (67).


46 the usual result of Fanny’s (and Elizabeth’s) in ternal reflections is self-directed action, which emphasizes her imp roved moral resolve. Aside from her affinity to the outdoors, one of the best ways we understand Fanny is through Austen’s descriptions of her attic room, her place of refuge and escape within the house at Mansfield. Though these descriptio ns sound similar to descriptions of the exterior grounds of Mansfield, a closer l ook at Fanny’s experience in each of these environments reveals one important differe nce—the influence of time and memory: She could go there after anything un pleasant below, and find immediate consolation in some pursuit, or some tr ain of thought at hand.—Her plants, her books—of which she had been a collector, fr om the first hour of her commanding a shilling—her writing desk, and her works of charity and ingenuity, were all within her reach;—or if indisposed for employ ment, if nothing but musing would do, she could scarcely see an object in that room which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it. –Every thing was a friend, or bore her thoughts to a friend; and though there had been sometimes much of suffering to her—though her motives had been often misunderstood, her feelings disregarded, and her comprehension under-valued; though she had known the pains of tyranny, of ridicule, and neglect, yet almost every r ecurrence for either had led to something consolatory … and the whole was now so blended together, so harmonized by distance , that every former affliction had its ch arm. The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furnitu re for the handsomest in the house. (106, emphasis added ) When Fanny is inside the house, a distance of time is required to achieve the harmony that nature has of its own accord. Howeve r, once Fanny achieves harmony, she does not wish to change or “improve” upon it, just as she does not approve of making changes to exterior landscapes. This difference is clearer when we remember the comparison to Wordsworth and his treatment of “objects.” Fa nny’s objects are not “objects of beauty;” each object is old and used, but valuable to her as a direct result of the “interesting remembrance” attached to it, and she connect s each remembrance to a relationship, which serves to strengthen her domestic ties.


47 Austen’s focus on nature and memory serves to reinforce her commitment to the importance of domestic order to the stability of society. As we see in Mansfield Park , Fanny finds “tranquil restoration” only when domestic order is restored to her by returning to Mansfield. This order finds its source in the natural world surrounding Mansfield, just as Fanny’s inne r sense of what is morally co rrect finds its source in the laws of nature, which Austen repeatedly s uggests are the source of moral conscience and good behavior.2 Likewise, Austen centers Fanny’s l earning experiences on the restoration of domestic order in spite of the forces that threaten to destroy it. Though Austen interests herself and her introspective protagonist in the function and capricious nature of memory, she is more interested in the ways these for ces function to teach her characters the values inherent within a healthy domestic communit y. Austen’s nature is domestic rather than distant; she finds wonder in a domestic nature close to home rather than a sublime nature that stands apart from the country estate. A small portion of Wordsworth’s poetry does celebrate natural domesticity, but Austen ce lebrates it exclusively. When it comes to Romantic excess, she tends to speak with sa rcasm or else move herself away toward a Romantic sensibility grounded in what Anne Mellor has characterized as a distinctly feminine Romanticism—a Romanticism bound in community and relationships. She 2 Austen uses the word ‘nature’ most frequently in her novels to describe a character’s innate qualities. Though occasionally used to describe negative qualities, more often she uses these references to describe positive character qualities. For example, in Mansfield Park , Fanny feels relief rather than sorrow at the idea of Sir Thomas’ leaving, her “relief, and her consci ousness of it, were quite equal to her cousins'; but a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful, and she really grieved because she could not grieve” ( emphasis added 25). Fanny’s understanding of her own ‘nature’ is reflected in her comments to Henry Crawford as she rejects his offer of marriage; she tells him that “their dispositions were so totally dissimilar as to make mutual affection incompatib le; and that they were unfitted for each other by nature , education, and habit” (222). At Fanny’s greatest moment of internal conflict, she questions her own good nature, “Was it not ill nature , selfishness, and a fear of exposing herself,” but ends up deciding to go with her instincts, thus proving her moral superiority.


48 engages ideas like imagination, creativity a nd the power of nature, but never at the expense of the stronger power of community and domestic unity. Fanny’s Education in Nature Austen, like Wordsworth, educates her char acters by putting them in situations that force them to renegotiate their position in the world around them. Wordsworth focuses more exclusively on the natura l world, while Austen moves through a variety of social and domestic settings, and occasionally make s use of natural settings to teach her characters how to live in the world. Notably, Au sten attaches natural places in which the characters grow in a positive way to domes tic spaces, while natura l settings unconnected to domestic life tend to host scenes of discord, loss, or ruin for various characters in her novels. Consider Fanny’s observations of natu re at Mansfield Pars onage or Elizabeth’s extensive walks on the grounds of Pemberley and Rosings. These scenes of beauty and growth contrast sharply with scenes in which characters wander beyond the realm of the domestic. For example, Austen uses Maria’ s desire to escape beyond the ha-ha to show her moral lack of restraint and foreshadow her illicit affair with Henry Crawford.3 When Fanny is sent to Portsmouth, her health and spirits flounder. In Sense and Sensibility , when Marianne insists upon running too far af ield of her home she hurts her ankle, and when she chooses to walk “in the most distan t part” of the grounds at Cleveland “where there was something more of w ildness than the rest, where th e trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest” she develops a life-threat ening illness (315). Though Austen does not seem to make any dis tinction between the o fficial boundaries of 3 Jill Heydt-Stevenson’s wonderful article “‘Slipping into the Ha-Ha’: Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen’s Novels” argues that Austen’s use of bawdy humor “announced her ‘knowingness,’ since laughter, like sexuality, is associated with agency” (312).


49 the estate and these smaller internal boundaries, these ex amples do indicate that the woman’s proximity to her domestic community are important to her moral and physical health. One of the most Wordsworthian passages in Mansfield Park takes place in the garden of Mansfield parsonage, a household ad jacent to Mansfield and dependent upon it for its income. Fanny and Miss Crawford, the si ster of the resident of the home, have been walking in the garden and pause to rest, when Fanny says, ‘Every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck wi th its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was not hing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as any thing, or capable of becoming any thing; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornamen t; and perhaps in another three years we may be forgetting—almost forgetting wh at it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, a nd the changes of the human mind!’ And following the latter train of thought she soon afterwards added: ‘If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the power, the failures, the inequalities of memory, th an in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—at others, so bewildered and so weak—and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond controul!— We are to be sure a miracle every wa y—but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out …. (143) Because she uses “exalted language” to “p raise” the shrubbery, I call this passage Fanny’s “Ode to a Shrubbery” (NTC).4 Since it expresses emotion, Fanny’s Ode has lyric qualities as well. Fanny allows her mind to associate freely upon the objects she views; beginning with the changes in the surrounding vegetation, she moves to speculations as to the value of natural grow th, and then to a philosophical rumination on the wonder of human memory. As she does so, we see Fanny’s connection with nature, as well as the way her mental developmen t and thoughts are inspired by her ongoing 4 Another sample of Austen’s use of the shrubbery to show changes in character may be found in Emma, when Emma “hurries into the shrubbery” in order to clear her mind (361).


50 engagement in the natural worl d. Her philosophic reflections on nature are not a result of reading on the subject, but rather a direct result of time spent visiting and revisiting the same walk in Mrs. Grant’s garden and obser ving the changes in the greenery around her. Further, she connects the changes she sees in nature with the changes she observes in “our nature” or “our intelligences.” In other words, Fanny comes to understand her internal world by observing the external world of nature; she views na ture as a model for understanding the mysterious wo rkings of the human mind. Fanny does not echo Wordsworth’s view of memory as a calm state of mind in which a person may hope to find solace, or reca ll pleasurable emotions, or even provoke artistic expressions. Instead, she concludes th at the faculty of memory demonstrates the fallibility of human nature; it guides her to see humans as “wonderful” but “weak,” and equally as likely to forget as to remember . For Austen, the memory is not a force of human creativity so much as a force of nature to be wondered at in the same manner that we admire all the other forces of nature—w ith awe, but without any false notions of mastering them. Memory, like th e experience of tranquillity, is paradoxical in that it can be simultaneously “serviceable” and “obedien t,” and “tyrannic” and “beyond controul.” Austen connects this paradox of memory with the forces of a changing and yet reassuringly regular nature. In fact, Fanny will remember this scene—and scenes like it—when she is at her lowest point in the novel: It was sad to Fanny to lose all the plea sures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passi ng March and April in a town. She had not known before, how much the beginnings a nd progress of vegetation had delighted her.—What animation both of body and mind she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in sp ite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties, from the earlie st flowers, in the warmest divisions of


51 her aunt’s garden, to the opening leaves of her uncle’s plantati ons, and the glory of his woods. (293) But this memory, with all its emphasis on gr owth, natural progress, and the passing of time, brings Fanny no physical or emotional relie f in the present tense; all the pleasure she expresses here is in the past: “t he beginnings and pr ogress of vegetation had delighted her .—What animation both of body and mind she had derived …,” etc . Her memory serves to strengthen her attachment to the natural spaces surrounding the place she misses rather than give her relief from th e place she is in. The encouraging inspiration she receives from seeing the change in the seasons suggests that Fanny identifies her own inner progress with “the be ginnings and the progress of vegetation,” the “increasing beauties,” and the “opening leaves” she obser ves. The reader can see the influence of Fanny’s time in the countryside by observing the bits of dome stic comfort and order she brings to the Portsmouth househol d. She can, as a result of “her foreign education” in the country “contribut[e] her help to its comforts” and “new as it was to herself to imagine herself capable of guiding or informing any one ,” she decides to help her sister Susan by “endeavour[ing] to exercise for her advantage th e juster notions of what was due to every body” (265, 269). However, it seems that to benefit fully from the countryside surrounding Mansfield, Fanny must be in it physically. Dwelling on it mentally does not satisfy “both mind and body” and her stay in Portsmouth leaves her physically ill and emotionally depleted. Back in the Mansfield shrubbery, after Mi ss Crawford replies rather distractedly that she “had not imagined a country parson ever aspired to a sh rubbery,” Fanny begins to praise the evergreen and laurel trees be fore commenting on the “astonishing variety of nature,” which allows various trees to thri ve in the same soil. Once again, her mind


52 wanders associatively from thought to thought, ending with a self-conscious realization that Miss Crawford has been listening to some of her inward reveries: “You will think me rhapsodizing; but when I am out of doors, I am very apt to get into this sort of wondering strain. One cannot fix one’s eyes on the co mmonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy” (144). Fanny’s last comment is remini scent of the latter portion of “Tintern Abbey,” in which the speaker looks down on the Wye River and mentions the presence of a silent companion to his reveries: While here I stand, not only with the sense Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts That in this moment th ere is life and food For future years. (63) Wordsworth’s speaker finds a combination of calm and pleasure in the present as a result of his experience with the “forms of beauty” in nature, as he anticipates the benefits he will receive when he recalls this experien ce in “future years.” Fanny, on the other hand, has no conscious sense of carrying her current experience into the future, in spite of the fact that later in th e novel this very place will become the location of great happiness for her. However, Fanny’s pleasure, like her tranquill ity, is immediate; it occurs in space and time, and she expresses it as she experiences it. This makes her effusion in the garden unconscious foreshadowing, which is not quite the same as that of the speaker of “Tintern Abbey,” who consciously stores up memories for times to come. Two Models of Education in Nature When thinking about female education in Mansfield Park , a comparison arises between Fanny and Mary Craw ford. Anne Mellor has noted,


53 Jane Austen’s conviction th at the survival of women inside and out of marriage depends upon rational resoluti on is perhaps clearest in Mansfield Park , where we are asked to endorse the cautious modesty of Fanny Price rather than the energetic imagination of Mary Crawford. Fanny is the voice of prudenc e in the novel, of sound moral and intellectual sense, a voice th at sustains the organic growth of the family within a clean, well-lighted home … (58) From the perspective of the development, a character like Mary fails in the places that Fanny succeeds because she lacks the abil ity to “see” nature properly and has a corresponding lack of discernment when it comes to moral issues. In her article “‘Slipping into the Ha-Ha’: Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen’s Novels,” Jill Heyt-Stevenson criti ques the kind of polarized comparison I make here between Mary and Fanny. She quotes and ag rees with Patricia Meyers Spacks that the tendency of readers “to link laughter with ‘moral wea kness’ and ‘ethical ambiguity’ … necessarily polarizes characters, especially Mary and Fanny,” and points out that “the narrative voice more closely resembles Mary than Fanny” (324). I would add that the narrative voice also rese mbles that of Elizabeth Bennet, who, after all, is a morally sound character, and who represents one version of Austen’s ideal for female behavior and agency. Austen’s limit or tolerance level for witty—and even bawdy—intercourse seems to reside ultimately in a character’s c hoices, which reemphasizes the agency of the female, her ability to create her own ident ity through action. Where Mary chooses to push the limits of propriety with her “livelin ess” of both language and action, Elizabeth chooses to recognize and agree with those forces that can make her a better person. Instead of a polarization of virtue and vice, I see Austen developing at least three alternatives for her characters: true moralit y, which is rewarded by a degree of security and happiness in a warm domestic circle; fals e morality, which is errant but correctable through choice; and immorality, which is puni shed by separation from the safety and


54 happiness of the domestic circle. The choices a character makes at key moments in the novel ultimately determine the nature of a character’s morality. Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram choose to act upon essentiall y immoral principles and are punished accordingly. By contrast, Edmund chooses to allow himself first to be ruled by a false morality—visible in his self-deception where Mary’s behavior is concerned and his attempt to abandon his duties toward his family and community—that eventually transforms itself into true morality once he understands hi s error and chooses to return to Mansfield and to Fanny. In each case, the char acter’s actions and c hoices determine the level or moral virtue they possess. The narrator of Mansfield Park consistently portrays Fanny as a beacon of ‘true’ morality because she is superior in kindness, understanding, and manners toward those around her. Fanny has an ability superior to her companions to view properly and respond to the social and natural worl ds she inhabits. For instance, [Fanny’s] own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions; and in observing the appearance of the country, the bearings of the roads, the difference of the soil, the state of the harvest, th e cottages, the cattle, the children, she found entertainment [but] Miss Crawford was ve ry unlike her. She had none of Fanny’s delicacy of taste, of mind, of feeling; sh e saw nature, inanimate nature, with little observation; her attention was all for men and women, her talents for the light and lively. (58) While Fanny has learned contentment through li ving in the country, Mary cannot see or find anything to satisfy her there. When they are in the shrubbery, Miss Crawford “see[s] no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seei ng [her]self in it” (144). While Fanny feels moved to rhapsodize, Mary remains “untouche d and inattentive” and has “nothing to say” (143). Fanny’s comment on the wonder of ever greens leads her to a perfect educational metaphor for the difference between herself a nd Mary; she is amazed “that the same soil and the same sun should nurture plants diffe ring in the first rule and law of their


55 existence” (144). Mary sets off Fanny’s warm, ecstatic contentedness in the country with her anxious unease in it; and her subsequent need to secure busyness and social bustle around her emphasizes Fanny’s utter contente dness. For the sake of her growing attachment to Edmund, Mary does attempt to imagine herself living at Mansfield, but her words and actions continue to give away her true character. As Fanny exclaims to her, “How differently we feel!” (145). Another embedded criticism of Mary lies in Austen’s description of her arguments with Edmund over petty, yet factual, info rmation. When they walk the grounds at Sotherton disputing a distance (and later the ti me), the narrator wryly condemns Mary’s silly banter, calling it “feminine lawlessness”: Not half a mile,’ was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with fe minine lawlessness. … He still reasoned with her, but in vain. She would not calc ulate, she would not compare. She would only smile and assert. The greatest degree of rational consistency could not have been more engaging, and they talked with mutual satisfaction. (68–9) In this case, Austen equates “rational consistency” with sc ientific measurements, which were coming to be considered a part of natu ral law, or laws extending from the natural order of things. Here Austen pokes gentle f un at Mary’s impatience while taking a more serious stab at her use of the ‘womanly’ art of manipulation. Wh ile some may find it amusing, and certainly many feminist writers of Austen’s time espoused it as a political tactic, Austen ultimately rejects this me thod of achieving female dominance in relationships or politics. Instead, Austen works to find solutions to social problems without making her heroines sacrifice their mo ral character. One of the ways she shows this is through her characters affinity for, or aversion to, nature. While Mary is ranting about her lack of concern for th e laws of nature, the narrator tells us that for Fanny, “to sit in the shade on a fine day, a nd look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.” Mary,


56 on the other hand, tells the group, “I must m ove … resting fatigues me.—I have looked across the ha-ha till I am weary” (68–9). Fanny’ s observation of nature restores her to a right state of mind, while Mary’s inability to sit and enjoy nature in this way is connected to her questionable moral character. Beyond re stlessness and an incompatibility with domestic tranquility, Mary hi nts at a lack of moral rest raint that mirrors the one demonstrated by Maria when she slips across the barrier of the ha-ha the same day. Natural Morality and Sympathy Much like Wordsworth’s use of na ture as guiding force throughout the Lyrical Ballads and The Prelude , in Austen’s novels, nature becomes the means of moral education in a way that exceeds the educatio nal attempts of patriarchal role models. Though it initially appears that Edmund is the moral instructor of Fanny, she ultimately surpasses Edmund in her moral understanding because of her educational “improvement” in the natural world. We tend to credit a ny development or achi evement of Fanny’s to Edmund’s instruction of her, since early in the novel the narrator introduces him as her instructor: “Kept back as she was by everyone else, his single support could not bring her forward, but his attentions we re otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasure” (18). However, Fanny’s ability to surpass Edmund in moral discernment is one of the most important and unique developments in Mansfield Park , one that her connection to the natural world around Mansfield makes possible. Anne Mellor sugge sts that Austen “corrected … the didactic tradition of reformed heroines” by “focusing our attention upon a he roine who develops in intellectual and moral stature” (41). She be lieves that novelists like Austen who were directly influenced by Wollstonecraft’s “revolutionary feminine Romanticism … transformed this tradition by putting forth a subtle critique of masculinity, of the flaws in


57 intelligence and moral virtue demonstrated by the male a well as the female characters (41). By the end of Mansfield Park , Fanny represents the moral center and binding force of all the characters who reside within th e small community at Mansfield. She brings Edmund back from his wayward path so that Mansfield can remain stable and within the family. Austen’s heroines tend to learn sympathy as part of the development of their moral understanding (think of Marianne or Cath erine). Fanny, for the most part, already exhibits real sympathy toward everyone in her circle by shari ng in their concerns, troubles and joys. Even toward Mary Crawford, whose presence in Edmund’s life forces Fanny into the background, Fanny consistently chooses to treat with consideration, kindness and forbearance. Though she may have trouble entering into active sympathy with Mary, her good nature does not allow her to treat Mary with disdain or ill manners.5 In spite of her general good will toward thos e in her immediate ci rcle, Fanny experiences much of her daily life without receiving the kind of sympathy that she gives to others. More often, those around her ignor e her feelings in favor of a ttending to their own needs. As the small group prepare themselves for a dinner with the Grants , the narrator notes that “she had scarcely ever dined out be fore; and though now going only half a mile and only to three people, still it was dining out, a nd all the little interests of preparation were enjoyments in themselves. She had neither sympathy nor assistance from those who ought to have entered into her feelings” (150). In this case, Austen defines sympathy as entering into the f eelings of others, something Fanny does regularly with all the fa mily at Mansfield (305). Three important 5 To be fair, Fanny does harbor unkind thoughts about Mary; however, for the most part, her assessment of Mary proves to be an accurate reading of Mary’s moral character.


58 men in her life provide exceptions to the this general rule of her existence by exhibiting varying degrees of sympathy toward her situ ation: Sir Thomas occasionally acts on her behalf as a result of his kind feelings toward her; Edmund nearly always seeks out ways to improve her life by paying close attenti on to her feelings; and her brother, though rarely seen, provides the highest bond of fellow-feeling Fanny experiences. Austen’s narrator gives the r eader a vivid picture of the level of sympathetic feeling shared between Fanny and her brother; she e xperiences an “unchecked, equal, fearless intercourse with [her] brother a nd friend” (161). This level of shared feeling and equal intercourse provides a model for the marri age relationship. However, the “dearest indulgence of the whole” experience ex ists within the manner in which all the evil and good of their earliest years could be gone over again, and every former united pain and pleasure retra ced with the fondest recollection. An advantage this, a strengthener of love, in which even the conjugal tie is beneath the fraternal. Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some mean s of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply. (161) In keeping with this sensibility, Fanny also experiences shared feelings of sympathy with her sister Susan while she visits Portsmout h. The narrator notes that, in spite of a difference in “disposition,” Fanny and Susan develop mutual respec t and consideration for one another (161, 290). Fanny first finds “t he determined character of her general manners” astonishing and alarming, though she eventually acknowledges a difference in their natural dispositions. She realizes that Susan “saw much that was wrong at home, and wanted to set it right,” which leads Fanny to admire her rather than censure her and view her with “mingled compassion and resp ect” (269). Her compassion comes from the “sympathetic acuteness of feeling” she devel ops once she understand s Susan’s situation; she has been “brought up in the midst of ne gligence and error” and yet she still manages


59 to form “proper opinions of what ought to be” (270). In terms of feminine agency, Susan reminds us somewhat of Elizabeth Bennet in her ability to make choices and act for herself even while her educati on is incomplete. Austen chooses not to crush or punish the independence of spirit so long as it is clear to the reader that her choices become more and more rational as she learns to command he rself. By contrast, Austen also shows us characters who make selfish, emoti on-based decisions – like Maria in Mansfield Park or Lydia in Pride and Prejudice – that not only ruin their own chances of happiness, but materially damage the reputations their families. Edmund’s actions toward Fa nny—spending time with her, talking openly with her, making sure she has a horse to ride, defending her interests in social situations—show his sympathy toward her. However, twice th e narrator notes Edmund’s recognition of Fanny’s kindness by referring to her sympathy to ward him. The first time, the two are discussing Miss Crawford’s “little errors ” when Edmund tells Fanny, “I must be a blockhead indeed if, whatever befell me, I could think of your kindness and sympathy without the sincerest gratitude” (185). As with Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice , Edmund’s feelings of gratitude and sympathy are part of his development of feelings of love. After his disappointment with Mary Cr awford, Edmund does not take very long before indulging in “the luxur y of relating circumstances a nd sensations of the first interest to himself, to one whose affecti onate sympathy he was qu ite convinced” (308). These examples of Fanny’s sympathy help e xplain Edmund’s change of heart after his infatuation with Miss Crawford. For Austen, shared sympathy builds gratitude, which in time, produces love: “I only entreat every body to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it shoul d be so, and not a week earlie r, Edmund did cease to care


60 about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire” (319). Though her narrator is somewhat tongue in cheek as she relates this news, Austen nonetheless develops this pattern of emotions in all her novels. Ironically, it is Miss Crawford, much earlier in the novel, who gi ves us an interesting take on the role of sympathy in marriage. Unable to devel op any sympathy within herself, she can nonetheless quote a line from Lover’s Vows as she dreams aloud to Fanny about her hopes for herself and Edmund: “When two sympat hetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life” (243). Re aders may wonder along with me if Miss Crawford really experiences or understands heartfelt sympathy, sin ce she refers with fondness to the way Edmund’s “sturdy spirit” be nt to accommodate her wishes (243). We know, as Fanny does, that Edmund’s bending to ward Miss Crawford shows weakness of character and judgment on his part. Ultimately, Austen chooses to join the pairs who are most alike in their feelings, inclinations, a nd judgments; as a positive model, she allows Fanny and Edmund a happy ending together, wh ile showing a negative model in the failed marriage of the Rushworths and the s ubsequent illicit affa ir between Henry and Maria. Feminine Agency in Mansfield Park When Fanny retreats to her room, her “n est of comforts” in order “to try its influence on an agitated, doubting spirit—to see if by l ooking at Edmund’s profile she could catch any of his counsel, or by givi ng air to her geraniums she might inhale a breeze of mental strength herself,” we s ee the key components of her development: solitude, reflection, the consid eration of Edmund’s teaching, and the presence of natural elements (107). Fanny’s mental clarity comes fr om an internal discussion that considers Edmund’s influence and nature’s lessons. Fa nny’s discussion with herself marks the


61 beginning of a complex series of mental di sassociations Fanny mu st maneuver through before she can realize that she has to make moral decisi ons without Edmund’s guidance. This realization begins with an inward question: “would Edmund’s judgment, would his persuasion of Sir Thomas’s disapprobation of the whole, be enough to justify her in a determined denial in spite of all the rest ?” While on the surface, her question seems merely to fuss over who she can best please, the moral ramifications of her dilemma resonate on a level with Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman ; does woman answer for her own actions or doe s she merely obey the moral instruction of her male teachers? By the end of this very scene, Fanny wonders with in herself, “Could it be possible? Edmund so inconsistent. Was he not deceiving himself? Was he not wrong?” (110). In short, we eventually learn with Fanny that Edmund was wrong. Fanny, guided by her natural inclinations, wh ich she gained through her expe riences in nature, turns out to be correct. Fanny’s defining moment is her refusal to bend to her uncle’s insistence that she marry Henry Crawford. First, she shocks He nry by refusing him; then she confounds her uncle by informing him that she does, in fact , “know [her] own feelings.” Not only does she know them, but she stands by them in spite of the shaming “pictu re as her uncle had drawn, for not liking Mr. Crawford,” as well as Edmund’s refusal to support her decision or even understand or sympathize with her reasons for refusing Crawford. Sir Thomas’ comment that “there is something in this which my comprehension does not reach” hints at the incompatibility of so me forms of masculine and feminine dialogue (214). Sir Thomas can only understand Fanny’s outward form; he appreciates her beauty, and is pleased with her because she pleases him. Eventually Edmund learns to appreciate


62 Fanny’s inward nature, but only after unders tanding his mistake in confusing outer beauty for inner moral character with Ma ry Crawford. By showing her reader the “lesson” Edmund learns, Austen forwards an alternative kind of bond and communication between men and women, an equal one ba sed on education and communion with the English countryside. Part of the décor of Fanny’s room includes “three transparencies made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station between a cave in Italy, and a moon light lake in Cumberland” (107). This uncanny allusion suggests the possibility that Austen considered the “remembrance” Fanny experiences as similar in emotional inte nsity to that expressed in Wordsworth’s poetry. Her mention in the same sentence of th e Lake District in northern England evokes the setting of many of the poems in the Lyrical Ballads (107). One wonders if Austen meant for her readers to associate Fanny’s imaginative musings with Wordsworth’s imaginative poems. If so, Austen certainly c onfirms what must alr eady be a consistent thread throughout her works – an agreemen t with Wordsworth on the function of the English countryside in the English home. In a scene reminiscent of Wordsworth’s “A Night Piece,” Fanny describes the view out a window and the feelings inspired by it (quoted in chapter ep igraph). Initially, she enjoys sharing the scene with Edmund, but Ma ry Crawford’s singing draws his attention away, which demonstrates Fanny’s superior taste and sense. Edmund’s response to Fanny reveals what he views as his role in her educa tion: “It is a lovely night, and they are much to be pitied who have not been taught to feel in some degree as you do—who have not been given a taste for nature early in life” ( 81). But his actions show that being “taught to


63 feel” a certain way about nature, or “given a taste for nature” by rote is very different from what Fanny has gained through her expe riences in nature a nd the explicit moral connection she makes in this moment. Though Edmund instructed Fa nny, his education is in fact inferior to hers; he does not understa nd the depth of what she has just said because he is too absorbed in his own desires. In th e midst of their conversation, Edward “turn[s] his back on the window” and Fanny has “the mortification of seeing him advance too, moving forward by gentle degrees towards the instrument” where Mary is singing (81). Though part of him, perhaps we could call it hi s better nature, agrees with her, he acts on other impulses. By emphasizing each character’s visual focus and the internal effects of choosing to look at a certain object, Austen suggests that what one ad mires—whether it is a natural object or the person across the drawing room—s hows true character, and can even reveal potential flaws in otherwise good characters . Edmund’s blindness to Mary Crawford’s true nature becomes evident when he chooses to turn away from the beautiful outdoor scene in order to get closer to Mary. Aust en’s study in viewing shows that Fanny has surpassed Edmund, and that he requires a little more of the education available in the area surrounding Mansfield before he will deserve Fa nny’s affections. Only after he returns to Mansfield, and “exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it s hould be so,” does Edmund become “as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire” (319). Fanny’s warm expostulation over the night scene demonstrates an instance in which Austen appears to agree with Word sworth that an appreciation for and a connection with natural beau ty are necessary to the formation of “good” human character. This connection creates an e nvironment for the development of the mind,


64 spirit, and soul; and both Austen and Word sworth imply that proper interaction with nature results in better outward behavior toward other people. Like Wordsworth’s argument in the subtitle to the eighth book of The Prelude —“love of nature leading to love of mankind”—Fanny’s exclamation, “When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor so rrow in the world” assumes that an essential connection, made in the mind of man between the natural world and the conscience, causes some people to develop into morally superior beings and some into less than admirable creatures ( Prelude 487). Neither author argues that every person is attuned to nature in this way or even that every pers on is born capable of such a higher function. However, Austen claims the power of natu re to influence human development for both men and women; and in Fanny’s case, she claims th at nature within the domestic space of the estate can even give women the power to achieve moral superiority over men. We might question such a claim for a ch aracter who spends most of the novel quietly obeying and consenting to the desires of the major male figures in her life. At this point, it is important to remember Bannet’ s clarification of what constitutes agency within the environment for women writers in Austen’s time: “In women’s novels, it was still a significant feminist act to portray a heroine as a rational and educated woman who governed herself by moral and religious laws , determined her own conduct against the commands or advice of a parent or guardi an, and was proved right by events” (38). We must look at the concluding “events” for the fi nal determination in this case. Throughout the novel, Fanny’s obedience to Sir Thomas is not based upon an admission on her part of his absolute right to rule her life. Rather it is based upon th e reciprocal nature of their relationship; she pleases him and makes him feel good about his choice to take her in,


65 and she consents to nearly all his requests because she f eels gratitude for his kindness and notice of her and because she believes he has her best interests at heart. The trial for Fanny comes when her sense of moral right , which has been developing throughout her life and the span of the novel, directs her to act against the desires and pressures of Sir Thomas for her to accept Henry CrawfordÂ’s offer of marriage. To underline the power and courage of this refusal, Austen makes it clear that even Edm und, who will eventually be her husband, and who seems truly to care fo r her as an individual, disapproves of FannyÂ’s choice. In the end, though, FannyÂ’s morali ty born of her ability to reason proves to be the strongest of all the characters in the book. Her choice to follow her own inner judge proves to be the most beneficial not only for herself, but for Sir Thomas and Edmund as well. As the new wife of Edm und, she brings him back from his wayward pursuit of Mary Crawford to his rightful pl ace in the domestic sphere of the Mansfield estate, which, in turn, provides the stability a nd continuity of the es tate that Sir Thomas so desperately seeks.


66 CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION Austen developed and responded to many of the ideas we consider central to our understanding of the Romantic period. In pa rticular, she shared an affinity with Wordsworth for examining the way nature in fluenced and formed memory, character, and community. However, Austen “translated” Wordsworth’s use of nature to forward her own ideas about female development; she ma de the role of female characters central to her novels in order to show that nature could teach a woman to think for herself and act upon her own well thought out judgments. In modern terms, we might not call this feminism, but we must certainly acknowle dge the importance of Austen’s movement toward gender equality in her use of nature and the estate. This subtle change in focus makes Austen a feminist within her own tim e, one whose apparent agreement with the status quo actually revises masculine Roman tic views toward nature and creates new ways to think about women. Austen’s use of nature, as I have disc ussed it here, gives her a place in the Romantic canon. Comparing her works to Wordsw orth’s is useful because it allows for a critical focus on Austen’s reactions to th e poetic trends of her day, and how those reactions create new literary territory for wo men. Her feminine use of nature allows her, like many other female writers of her period, to reclaim the power of nature for the domestic sphere. Her novels es tablish women’s equality by de monstrating their ability to interact with and learn from natu re the same way that men can.


67 Focusing as I have on nature is just one way to approach this nuanced issue. The critical works of Bannet and Mellor represen t the beginning of what I hope will become a broader examination of the ideas that wome n of the Romantic period engaged in to initiate and propel an ongoing di alogue with their masculine Romantic counterparts. This dialogue, conducted through the revisiting and revision of common ideas, represents a written currency that allowed women to revi se masculine ideology in order to advance the perception of womenÂ’s roles in society.


68 WORKS CITED Austen, Jane. Emma . Ed. Patricia Meyer Spacks. No rton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. —. Jane Austen’s Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye . Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. —. Mansfield Park . Norton Critical Edition. New Yo rk: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. —. Northanger Abbey . Ed. Claire Grogan. Ontario: Br oadview Literary Texts, 2002. —. Persuasion . Ed. Kristin Fleiger Samuelian. Ontari o: Broadview Literary Texts, 2004. —. Pride and Prejudice . Ed. Robert P. Irvine. Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2002. —. Sense and Sensibility . Ed. Cathleen James-Cavan. Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2001. Bannet, Eve Taylor. The Domestic Revolution: Enlight enment Feminisms and the Novel . Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. Deresiewicz, William. Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets . New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. Duckworth, Alistair M. The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971. —. The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1994. Fraiman, Susan. Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development . New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. Heydt-Stevenson, Jill. “‘Slipping into the Ha-Ha’: Bawdy Humor and Body Politics in Jane Austen’s Novels.” Nineteenth-Century Literature , Vol. 55, No. 3 (Dec., 2000), pp. 309–339. Kestner, Joseph. “Jane Austen: The Tradit ion of the English Romantic Novel, 1800– 1832.” The Wordsworth Circle , 7:4 (1976 Autumn), pp.297–311.


69 Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism, and Fiction . London: The Athalone Press, 1997. Kroeber, Karl. “Jane Austen, Romantic.” The Wordsworth Circle , 7:4 (1976 Autumn), 291–96. Lau, Beth. “Sense and Sensibility and Ti ntern Abbey: Growth and Maturation.” The Wordsworth Circle , 35:2 (2004 Spring), pp. 65–68. MacWilliams, David C. “‘Hurrying into the Shrubbery’: The Sublime, Transcendence, and the Garden Scene in Emma.” Persuasions , Vol. 23 (1991), pp. 133–138. Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender . New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1993. NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms . Eds. Morner, Kathleen and Ralph Rausch. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1998. Page, Judith W. Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women . Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994. Ruoff, Gene W. “Anne Elliot’s Do wry: Reflections on the Ending of Persuasion .” The Wordsworth Circle , 7:4 (1976 Autumn), pp. 342–51 —. “The Sense of a Beginning: Mansfield Park and Romantic Narrative.” The Wordsworth Circle , 10 (1979) pp. 174 – 86. Siskin, Clifford. “A Formal Development: Austen, The Novel, and Romanticism.” The Centennial Review , 28–29: 4–1 (1984–85 Fall–Winter), pp. 1–28. Sulloway, Alison G. “Emma Woodhouse and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” The Wordsworth Circle , 7:4 (1976 Autumn), pp. 320 – 32. Tuite, Clara. Romantic Austen: Sexual Politics and the Literary Canon . New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Wordsworth,William. William Wordsworth: The Major Works . Oxford World Classics. Oxford University Press, 2000.


70 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Kadesh Lauridsen Minter received her bach elorÂ’s degree in English education from the University of North Florida in 2000. Af ter teaching English in the public school system for two years, she came to the Universi ty of FloridaÂ’s graduate English program, in order to pursue her interests in British Ro mantic literature. While at the University of Florida, she presented a paper on Frances Burn ey at the Burney SocietyÂ’s annual meeting in Los Angeles, and a paper on Maria Edge worth at the Midwestern Modern Language AssociationÂ’s annual conference in St. L ouis. She also founded the North Florida Regional Chapter of the Jane Austen Societ y of North America. (JASNA) Ms. Minter received her masterÂ’s degree in English in A ugust of 2006 from the University of Florida. She plans to continue resear ching and publishing articles and books related to Austen studies and to expand local participati on in JASNA in the north Florida area.