iven that slavery was a much discussed subject in Jane Austen's time, Fanny's interest in slavery is nothing unusual, and in fact Austen'sfiction refers to slavery isvereal times: In Sense and Sensibility, Fanny and Elinor Dashwood are eager to hear about the tropics while Persuasion refers to Sir Walter's stint in the East Indies, Mrs. Crofts visit to the West Indies and Mrs. Smith's estate in the West Indies. However, in Mansfield Parkthe silence which greets Fanny's question about slavery in Antigua, brings into play a web of connections between British power overseas and the sustenance of landed gentry in England. The novel concentrates on the minutiae of social behaviour to unveil the operations of imperial power at the domestic level. The domestic space, endowed with a complex array of mentalities and practices based on the divide between the public/private, inside/outside, and countryside/colony, unravels colonial ideology in all its value-laden configurations.
The Mansfield Estate is characterised by extravagance: 'the grandeur of the house' (11) and the size of the rooms ('too large') intimidates Fanny when she enters the household. Fanny's liminal position in the Bertram household is similar to that of a slave 'remember wherever you are, you must be the lowest and the last' (158). Austens tangential critique of slavery at this point is reiterated by her choice of the title. The titular Mansfield could refer to Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of England (1756-88), who passed a rule against the forceful transportation of slaves back from England, to the colonies, in 1772. A glance the issue of slavery appears in the location of the room allotted to her: 'you will put the child in the little white attic, near the old nurseries. It will be much the best place for her, so near Miss Lee, and not far from the girls, and close by the housemaids' (8). However it is the East room, the proverbial room of one's own, that empowers Fanny by arming her with reading and writing.
Ironically it is this empowerment, together with the quelling of slave rebellions in Antigua that crystallises Fanny's gradual induction into the dominant order. Sir Thomas's absence lays the groundwork for moral decay by introducing the Crawfords and Rushworth and paving way for Maria's elopement. This subversion is articulated spatially: Sir Thomas's bedroom is transformed and a stage replaces the table in his billiard room as the residents of the house prepare to perform Lover's Vow's. Both rooms, representative of masculinity, are transformed from within, successfully undermining patriarchal order. While Maria and Julia feel a sense a freedom in their father's absence, Fanny, who articulates her acute discomfit with the private theatrical, refuses to be an actress: 'I could not act anything if you were to give me the world' (106). Fanny's vicious counter-attack anticipates Sir Thomas's Burkean drive to cleanse the house of theatricality by destroying all copies of the play. The violent suppression of female lawlessnessj and reinstatement of propriety offers a stark parallel to Sir Thomas's role in the colonies — the domestic and colonial are inextricably linked, for the harmony of the former mirrors the regulated order of the latter. The cumulative effect of these actions is the restoration of a space that has been profaned. The space of the parlour, the sanctum-sanctorum of the bourgeoisie, is thus naturalised in Mansfield Park.
This reaffirmation is intrinsically ideological for 'geographies of domestic disorder were also maps of moral disorder' (Armstrong 654). A disorderly house becomes symptomatic of a disorderly society. Thus the insistence on sexual repression, central to the bourgeois novel, only becomes more pertinent with Britain's colonial project. The possession of colonial plantations is directly linked to social and moral order within the geographical confines of England. The spatial dynamic of the parlour at Mansfield Park, thus, becomes an ideological lynchpin for buttressing Orientalist values revolving around the subordination of slaves in Antigua. The narrative sanctions a spatial and moral order which flourishes because of the economically supportive estate on the periphery. This moral commensuration in the interplay between narrative and domestic space is central to the text. In this way, the novel form becomes central to circulating and consolidating British rule because depictions such as these provide a spring board for formal imperial investiture.
Strong authorial mediation controls the meaning generated by the text, thereby allowing the reader to gain access to a single, coherent meaning. The gradually diminishing power of the plantation owners can be gauged from the mention of disturbances in Antigua. However, moral and colonial order is reinstated within the final schema and the cycle represented in the novel is eternalised with Susan, taking Fanny's place, by Lady Bertram's side at Mansfield Park. The interaction of geographical and domestic spaces thus provides a focal point by which to unravel the fabric of as thick a discourse as Orientalism. The final insistence on 'the elegance, propriety, regularity and harmony — and perhaps above all the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield' (280) shows how the practice of the empire was consolidated by fixing and naturalizing space and social relations that empower the imperial center and subordinate the Orient.
Colonial expansion is critically implicated within, and structured by, the plot of domestic retrenchment and consolidation in Mansfield Park, the site and the novel. The definition of the nation is inextricably intertwined with sites abroad: nations, colonies and protectorates. Racial and cultural difference provides what Bourdieu terms a nomos for novelists like Jane Austen to represent a 'knowable community' (Williams 163) and in the process, justify the existing social order .The domestic space systems exemplifies the capillary action of Foucault's 'micro-technologies of power,' by showing the ways in which power unravels at the domestic level
Imagined Geographies: Representations of the Orient in Three Nineteenth-Century Novels
- 'She bit me . . . like a tigress': Charlotte Brontë's construction of the 'Other' in Jane Eyre
- Collins's representation of the 'cursed Indian jewel': Orientalism in the sensation novel
- Bibliography of Works Consulted
- The Anti-Slavery Campaign in Britain
- The British Empire: An Introduction
- The British Empire: An Overview
Austen, Jane. Emma. Ed. James Kinsley. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
— - Mansfield Park. Ed. Dr. Jan Littlewood. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 2002.
— - Sense and Sensibility. Ed. Margaret Anne Doody. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.k
Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice Cambrige: Harvard University Press, 1984.
Foucault, Michel. 'The Eye of Power'. Power/ Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-77. Ed. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon, 1980: 146-165.
— -. 'Of Other Spaces'. Diacritics. Spring 1986: 22-7.
— -. Power/ Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-77. Ed. Colin Gordon. Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1986.
Last modified 19 July 2007