Women's Education In Mansfield Park Essay

2056 words - 8 pages

Women's Education in Mansfield Park

 
    In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen presents three different kinds of formal

education for women. Two of these have the ultimate goal of marriage, while the

third is, possibly, as close to a gentleman's education as a woman's could be.

Although there is some overlapping of these three types, each one is, basically,

embodied in one of the major female characters -- Maria Bertram, Mary Crawford,

and Fanny Price -- to show the follies and the triumphs of each. Unlucky Maria's

education teaches her next to nothing, and Mary's has no true substance below

the bright surface. The timid, mousy Fanny Price, however, may be partly in debt

to her progressive education for the happiness that she earns at the end of the

novel.

 

            In Austen's world, a girl's education was almost inseparable from

her home life. What she learned and, consequently, her conduct, was often a

reflection of what her household was like, and this is certainly true of Maria

and Mary.

 

            Maria, brought up by a distant father, an indolent mother, and an

indulgent aunt, doesn't learn until too late that selfish actions can bring

disastrous consequences. (What is said for Maria in the subject of education is,

of course, also true for Julia -- however, for the sake of brevity, and as Maria

is the more prominent character of the two, she is the model of comparison in

this essay.) Sir Thomas regrets his neglect of his daughters' moral education

after Maria's character is exposed:

 

He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the

understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of

self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that

could profit them. (463)

 

Her father married for beauty, and her mother for convenience, so Maria has no

idealistic view of true love in marriage until Henry Crawford's attentions give

her a hope that is cruelly crushed. She is spoiled by the absence of her parents

-- when she runs away with Henry, she attempts to keep it a secret, as a little

girl might hide her misbehavior.

 

Mary, who was mostly raised in the more daring London, has difficulty subduing

her urban easiness to the more conservative countryside. The indulgence she

received from her aunt is of a more openly permissive type than Maria's, as may

be concluded from her unguarded speech.

 

            Since Fanny doesn't consider Mansfield Park her real home, she does

not grow up to be selfish like Maria, despite their shared classroom. Also, her

separation from her family in Portsmouth allows her to idealize them, so she

does not cling to her family's lower class (relative) coarseness; she doesn't

remember much more about her family...

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