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Exploring Space:

The Constellations of
Mansfield Park John Skinner

T wenty-five years ago an influential essay referred to the "difficult


beauty" of MansJield Park; whether or not subsequent criticism has
clarified or merely reaffirmed the novel's "difficulty," it has happily done
nothing to diminish its beauty.'
The difficulty is commonly related to certain aspects of the novel which
isolate it from Jane Austen's other fiction. One such feature is the con-
spicuous passivity of the heroine. Fanny Rice's lack of vitality may even
be thought to produce a dramatic vacuum, which could be linked to an-
other characteristic feature of the novel, the great thematic prominence
achieved by the house itself. The house may ultimately be more important
than all the people living in it. Alistair Duckworth placed particular em-
phasis on the Bertram estate in Mansfield Park as "a metonym for other
inherited structures"-defining and regulating what may be regarded as
a complete social order. Several years previously, Tony Tanner had suc-
cessfully used a similar approach, when he described Mansfield as an
"edifice of val~es."~
I See l h m a s R. Edwards. Jr. 'TIEDifficult Beauty of M&ld Pork." Nineteemh Cemry
Fiction 20 (1965). 5 1 4 7 . Of pvticulm intenst is Edwards's analysis of Ibe novel's "sank n-
sources" (52-55). essentially an allegorical mading of Ibe "wilderness" d o n . After discussing
'meddling." the dialectic of 'tonscience and conuiousness," and sympathy for "inqnrfection,"
Edwards munns once again-now @aps unconsciously--to spatial metaphor, with his sug-
gestion lhat Jane Austcn includes her characten in a "larger Jidd of imny that they n e w get
out of' (67. my emphasis).
2 Alistair M. DuckwoRh, The Improvemem of the Estate: A Study of Jonc Aurtcn's Nowlr (Bal-

EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION. Volumc 4. Number 2. January 1992


126 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

As other critics have shown, however, the text actually reflects sev-
eral discrete kinds of order, which include the social order of the house,
together with the psychological and moral order of the self and the aes-
thetic order of the novel? By a small shift of perspective, moreover, we
may move from order itself to the space in which that order is inscribed.
Mansfield Park has a massive repenoire of spatial referents, which-
without detriment to its rich complexity-may be categorized in fairly
schematic terms, to provide suitable parameters for a new reading of the
novel.
. There is thus an obvious public or social space, empirically established
if not rigidly demarcated; it corresponds to the external connections of the
great house and may be largely interpreted in terms of conventional to-
pography. Coexistent with this spatial dimension is another more private
or intimate space, derived from Mansfield's phenomenology (here de-
fined simply as the connotations of various material objects). Just as the
site of such imagery is the house itself, its main repository is Fanny.
The other young people at Mansfield Park function in a kind of ex-
istential space (the adjective is here used purely descriptively-even
reductively-and without any specialized philosophical implications): the
celebrated figurative devices within the novel, exemplified by the ama-
teur theatricals and the projected improvement of Sotherton, may be
regarded as attempts by youth to evade social constraints and achieve a
freedom of their own. From yet another perspective Mansfield Park is
characterized by substantial diegetic space: this appears in a kind of nar-
rative freedom, exemplified both by an emergent resistance to closure in
the final chapter, and by a certain linguistic licence evinced by some of
the more outspoken voices within the text.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, each of these spatial functions
will contribute to the pmduction of what we may call hemteneutic space,
or the considerable interpretative scope available to readers in the for-
mation of their own critical responses to the novel.
timore: Johns Hapkins University Rcss. 1971). p. ir. In his invoduction to the Penguin edition
of the n o v a Tanner acNally interpnU Lhe characters of the novel in the SgM of their relation-
ship with the p t house, grouping them ingeniously as guardians, inheritors, and interlopers.
lbe essay is "primed in revised form in Tony Tanner. Jam A m e n (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-
versity Ress, 1986). In The tife of Jme Amten (Brighlon: Harvcsler h s s , 1984) John Halperin
dismissed claims about the difference or difficulty of the novel as "nonsense": " M ~ s f i e e l dPark
is very much of a piece with her other bwlrs" (p. 234).
3 'Ibis formulation is indebted to Leo Bersani, A Future for Asryonar: Chamcter and Desire in
tiaratun (New YarL: Columbia University Ress, 1984). who also regards Fanny as Leeping
these various ordm in p l w (p. 156).
S P A C E I N M A N S F I E L D P A R K 127

Divisions of this kind are never self-evident, and may even be regarded
as artificial or arbitrary: thus, the interrelationship of public or private
space, or of diegetic and hermeneutic space, cannot always be reduced
to simple reciprocity or contrast; the various dimensions exist in a state
of unresolved tension, or engage in a perpetual process of realignment.
In any guise, however, concepts of space or the metaphors derived from
them are an invaluable aid to an appreciation of Mansfield Park. The
simple five-part division I have outlined provides the underlying structure
of this essay.

To begin in simple physical terms, it is striking that Mansfield Park


actually specifies not just the family seat, or even the complementary
establishments of "great house" and parsonage, but literally dozens of
significant locations (depending on where the threshold of functionality
is established). The implication here is that certain houses in fiction
may be regarded as informants in the Barthesian sense-minor objects
merely specifying setting-while others are indices-locations requiring
a decoding process.' Houses of the first kind are few in the present
text, for nowhere else in Jane Austen, and certainly in none of her
eighteenth-century predecessors, do we find such topographical com-
plexity as in Mansfield Park. In a peripatetic novel such as Humphry
Clinker, of course, setting is inevitably prominent, but not even Smol-
lea has Austen's consistent use of intricate topographical cross-references
for thematic or structural purposes.
For Ian Watt, physical setting is an important ingredient in the "formal
realism" which he regards as characteristic of the emerging n o ~ e l He .~
contrasts the detail of Richardson's interiors with Fielding's attention to
external topography: Tom .lone.- featured the first description of a Gothic
mansion in the history of the novel, and many places on the hero's
route to London are named. But more important than Fielding's archi-
tectural or topographical interests are his broad hints about the symbolic
function of Tom's childhood home. Jane Austen might well have appre-
ciated Fielding's benevolent paternalism--a role that comes less easily to
4 See Roland Banher. "Innoduction w lhe Srmcfural Analysts of N m u v c " in Image-Muw
Text. m s Svphen Hcalh (Landon: Collmr. 19771. pp. 7 5 4 4 . Sec also Wallace Martin. Recent
Acmes ofNarrotive (Ilharil:Comell Univcnlg R o s . 1986). p. 113.
5 Ian WatS The Rise ofthe Novel (H-ndsworth: Rnguin Books, 1957). pp. 34-37
128 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

Sir Thomas Bertram-but she would have found the quasi-allegory of a


Squire Allworthy in Paradise Hall incongruous in her own brand of "do-
mestic realism." Nevertheless, Mansfield Park and Paradise Hall are not
entirely remote from each other in their respective ideological functions
as metonyms of social order.
But Mansfield Park clearly possesses a more complex topographic
mode than even Tom Jones; for the major thematic areas of the novel,
however these are defined, are each clearly related to a whole matrix of
authentic, solidly specified houses, numerous enough to suggest an al-
most limitless progression. Thus, if the central thematic site is the "great
house" itself, various other houses move fleetingly or rest more perma-
nently within its orbit. Spatial relations are clearly defined: "scarcely half
a mile" from Mansfield is the parsonage; at a slightly greater distance
is the white house provided by Sir Thomas for Mrs Nonis. "Only eight
miles" beyond Mansfield Park, and more tenuously linked, is Thornton
Lacey, the prospective home of Edmund after his ordination.
'Ten miles of indifferent road" transport us to Sotherton Court, mo-
mentarily entering Mansfield's orbit and possessing its own constellation
of houses: the Brighton house taken for a few weeks after Mr Rush-
worth's marriage; Maria's town house in Wimpole Street to compensate
for the London house Lady Bertram had relinquished, the smaller house
to which Mrs Rushworth might be expected to retire on her son's mar-
riage. Towards the topographical periphery of the novel are the Price
home at Portsmouth, the "establishment" in "another country-remote
and private" for the disgraced Maria and Mrs Nonis, the various refuges
of Julia and Mr Yates during their elopement, perhaps even William's
floating home in the Anwerp. Ontologically remoter (in the sense that
they never actually materialize) are Stanwix Lodge, which Henry has fan-
tasies of renting, or the cottage which Fanny would share with William
in her family romance.
The full significance of the houses may emerge most clearly in two re-
lated passages, respectively early and late in the novel. In the second of
these, Henry Crawford is walking with Fanny and Susan in Portsmouth
dockyard and projecting an idyllic future in purely topographical terms:
"Mansfield, Sotherton, Thornton Lacey ... what a society will be com-
prised in those houses! And at Michaelmas, perhaps, a fourth may be
added, some small hunting-box in the vicinity of every thing so dear."6
6 Jane Ausm. Mmfild Pork. ed. Tony Tanner (Hmndsworth: Rnguin Bwks, 19%). p. 398.
References are to lhis edition.
SPACE I N MANSFIELD PARK 129

Henry's words are admittedly a coded message, aimed at delivery above


Susan's head, and yet they exemplify perfectly the novel's concern with
territorial appropriation and its tendency to regard social identity in &rms
of a house. They also give an added resonance to the term "establish-
ment," used freely in the other passage, Sir Thomas's discussion with
Lady Bertram and Aunt Noms in the opening pages. The word is re-
peated regularly throughout the novel, and it concisely embodies the
process of acquiring a seat such as Mansfield; the state of social sta-
bility concomitant with this acquisition; and the material result of this
dual process.
But if the dominant topographic set of the novel reflects socioeconomic
realities, other subsets have a thematic importance of their own. The
activity of "improvement" has profound significance for Jane Austen, as
earlier critics have shown, but the actual proliferation of this activity in
Mansfield Park must be clearly stressed.7 Although it centres primarily
on Sotherton Court, the latter is in fact only one of a series of landscaping
ventures projected or completed. Mr Rushworth's inspiration is his friend
Smith's house at Compton-the very name of the friend may hint at the
commonplace nature of this questionable activity; Henry Crawford has
"improved" his own home at Everingham, suggests drastic changes for
the parsonage at Thornton Lacey, and provides an ironic account of how
his uncle's cottage was "improved" at Twickenham. This matrix, often
clearly contiguous with the main topographical set, occurs throughout
the novel.
Another significant activity within the novel is illustrated by the am-
ateur theatricals. Jane Austen's attitude towards them has often been
misunderstood, and John Halperin has attempted to clarify it, with his
account of the Austen family's love of the theatre, and of the novelist's
own stage adaptation of Sir Charles Grandi~on.~ He argues that the au-
thor's reservations in Mansfield Park are limited to the actual choice of
play, and the behaviour of certain members of the cast. Amateur theatri-
cals are associated with many houses in the novel: they flourish briefly
at Mansfield, but the "itch for acting" was actually brought by Mr Yates

8 See Halperin's Life of Jane Amten. Halperin's tendency to read the novel autabioppbically
with regard to amateur theatricals--as indeed to almost everything else-is m without risk.
Fanny, Edmund, and even the narrator of Momfild Park do not limit their miticisms to the
choice of Lovers' Vows, but all seem to suggest some form of blanket candemafian of amateur
Uratricals.
132 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

from Ecclesford; when problems of casting arise, Tom claims that va-
cant roles would be easily filled by "six young men within six miles
of usn(p. 170) such as Tom Oliver or Charles Maddox at Stoke; Lady
Bertram blunders by suggesting provision for a theatre at Everingham,
when Fanny is its mistress.
In view of the importance of ordination in Mansfeld Park, parson-
ages and "houses" of worship predictably produce another (thematically
loaded) topographical set: Mansfield parsonage, the silent, disused chapel
at Sotherton, the future Thornton, all contrast sharply with the local
church at Portsmouth, warmly regarded by Mrs Price for the moments
of respite it offers in her daily struggle.
Readers may constitute their own sets almost at random-fashionable
town houses, comfortable country seats, places of public assembly; or
they may expand the original matrix, to include such marginal elements
as the Sneyds at Albion place, the Andersons of Baker Street, or the Miss
Owens of Peterborough, bringing ever fresh contingents of marriageable
daughters presumably caught in new manifestations of sibling rivalry. The
effect of such virtually endless reduplication resonates throughout the text
and surely transcends the mere solidity of specification conventionally
associated with the realistic novel.
In retrospect, however, Roland Bathes's simple opposition of index to
informant may not be easily applicable to Mansfield Park: one need only
compare MIS Rushworth's bland, matter-of-fact remarks on the family
chapel with Mary Crawford's highly subjective comments; or, more per-
.
tinentlv.. contrast the attitude of Tom and his sisters towards Mansfield
with that of Fanny. In each of these cases the narrator effectively demon-
strates different kinds of meaning attached to the same obiect by different
characters, whether these contras%ng relations are described simply as lit-
eral and figurative, or analysed in tern of denotation and connotation.
Such subtle interplay between modes of signifying ultimately demands
that the reader leave the purely terrestrial to probe the vast expanses of
hermeneutic space.

But Mansfield is also remarkable for a more personal, subjectively experi-


enced sense of intimate space. This awareness emerges in spatial imagery
applied to the house or related objects, and is associated almost exclu-
sively with Fanny. The Bertram children are essentially indifferent to their
own home: Tom uses it for pure convenience; Maria and Julia go to des-
perate lengths to escape from it; even Edmund shows little concern about
SPACE IN MANSFIELD PARK 133

moving to Thornton Lacey. Only Fanny comes to develop a genuine af-


fection for Mansfield, and is therefore understandably the main source
and focus of this kind of spatial imagery.
In this context, moreover, striking analogies may be found between
Fanny's mental processes and passages in Gaston Bachelard's The Po-
etics of Space-the culmination of his studies in phenomenology, an
extensive inquiry into the material imagination, an ontology of the po-
etic image.9 In this final volume particular prominence is given to spatial
images of the house and related objects. The house is discussed as a "ver-
tical being," its verticality reinforced by the polarity of cellar and attic,
and by analogy with the spatial divisions of conventional psychoanalysis
(now even invested in everyday language in a term such as subliminao:
"it is possible, almost without commentary, to oppose the rationality of
the roof to the irrationality of the cellar."'"
Fanny is regularly found, for example, retreating to the attic, "crying
on the attic stairs" (p. 51). "creeping slowly up the principal staircase"
(p. 285). or "in her way up stairs" (p. 312). It is to her attic that she sen-
sibly retires when the other inhabitants of Mansfield Park surrender to the
"madness" of amateur theatricals. Later, during the visit to Portsmouth,
Fanny renews the habit of "sitting up stairs," now trying to find refuge
from an "abode of noise, disorder and impropriety," thus combining
Bachelard's two concepts of "intimacy of refuge" and "rationality of
the roof." One must admit here, however, that the function of the East
mom as a refuge of "rationality" is to some extent neutralized by its sig-
nificance as a site of oneiric (and thus not conspicuously rational) space,
as discussed below.
When Bachelard turns to the phenomenology of more restricted
spaces-hut, nest, shell, corner-there are futher parallels with Fanny's
"little white attic" (and later the modest East room below it). Of the

9 The Porricr of S p e cWM. Maria lolas (Boston: Beacon Pnss. 1969) p. xii. Tbe prsise n a m
of Bachelard's argumnt may be understood from an explanatory passage such as the following:
"Of course, hanks to the house, a p a many of our memories an housed, and if the house is a
bit elatmate, if it has a cellar and n gamf no& and corridas, our mmories have refuges thaf
are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we wm back to them in our daydreams. A
psychoanalyst shauld, therefm, hlm his atlention to this simple localization of our mmories. I
should like to give the name of fopoanalysis to this auxiliary of psychoanalysis. Topoandysis.
then, would be the systematic psychological sNdy of lhe sites of our intimate lives" (p. 8).
Backlard's range of inquiry and principles of classification an a h clear from such chapter
beadings as TIE Housc. From Cellar to Gamt ...:' "Housc and Universe." "Drawers. Chests
and Wardrobes." "Nests." "Shells." 'Torners." and "Miniam."
10 Backlad, pp. 17-18.
134 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

latter we are told Fanny had "so naturally and so artlessly worked her-
self into it, that it was now generally admitted to be her's" (p. 173),
a process recalling Bachelard's anecdote of Erasmus's "finding a nook
in his fine house in which he could put his little body with safety.""
In The Poetics of Space the childhood home has a paramount oneiric
value, and in the daydream itself "the recollections of moments of con-
fined, simple, shut-in space are experiences of heart-warming space ...
that does not seek to become extended, but would like above all still
to be possessed."lZ Fanny's capacity for daydreaming is clearly recog-
nized by those closest to her, as when Mary finds her inattentive on
one occasion ("You are absolutely in a reverie," p. 355) or Edmund dis-
covers her with a book of travels ("taking a trip into China, I suppose,"
p. 177).
Elsewhere, her East room is explicitly described as a "nest of comforts"
(p. 174) and its source of oneiric inspiration is made quite explicit in
the comment that "she could scarcely see an object in that mom which
had not an interesting remembrance connected with it" (p. 173). The
objects include her many work-boxes and netting-boxes-mostly gifts
from her cousin Tom-and perhaps a shrewd if unconscious comment on
her nature; Bachelard posits an intimate relation between the geometry
of the small box and the psychology of secrecy, and recalls a Franz
Hellen character presenting his daughter with a small Japanese lacquer
box "because it seems to be better suited to her reserved nature."13
The East room or the attic as the places of Fanny's dreaming could
of course be explained quite reductively: banished to an obscure comer
of the house, the heroine has compensatory daydreams. And yet this as-
pect of the novel has a far greater importance: it reflects Fanny's gradual
estrangement from Portsmouth and eventual identification with Mans-
field. In the second chapter she is portrayed crying on the attic stairs and
"longing for the home she had left" (p. 50); on returning to Portsmouth
(chap. 38). she experiences a clear conflict of loyalties: "She was at home.
But alas! it was not such a home" (p. 375); seven chapters later, the pm-
cess is completed: "Portsmouth was Portsmouth, Mansfield was home"
(p. 421). But this insight is less a dramatic reversal than the result of
a carefully plotted development: it is Fanny's daydreaming, her experi-
ence of intimate space at Mansfield, which does much to strengthen her
11 Bachelard. p. 65.

I2 Bachehd, p. 10.
13 Bachclard, p. 82.
SPACE I N M A N S F I E L D P A R K 135

psychological ties with her new home. Bachelard's "topoanalysis" thus


provides interesting corroboration, for example, of Tony Tanner's more
subjective evaluation of Fanny as the true inheritor of Mansfield Park.

The experiences of the other young people at Mansfield largely bc-


long to a third spatial dimension, which may be described as existential
space in the purely descriptive sense previously suggested, the activity
of the Crawfords and the Bertram children typically involves the at-
tempt to attain greater personal freedom, territorial. erotic, or even purely
linguistic.
The discussion of existential space, with its inherent potential for the
realization of desire, may be linked above all to the insights of two critics,
one of whom has specifically discussed Mansjield Park. Leo Bersani's A
Future for AstyaMx questions the traditional belief of Western culture in
psychic order and significance, before considering various postmodernist
assaults on the concept of the stable, logically structured self.14 Cen-
tral to Bersani's thesis is an awareness of desire as a threat to the form
of realistic fiction; desire can subvert novelistic order no less than so-
cial order, and the process is explicitly portrayed in Mansfield Park.
Fredric Jameson, on the other band, offers an indirect insight into Mans-
field Park in his essay "The Realist Floor-Plan," which represents an
ambitious attempt to portray novelistic "realism" as a literary equiva-
lent of what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (in the Anti-Oedipus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia)lJdescribe as "decoding": a dissolution of
hierarchical structures and a secularization of older and sacred cultural
codes. Jameson refers to this process as the bourgeois cultural revolu-
tion. The parallel with Mansfield Park is impressive; for here, too, the
ideological subversion of the Crawfords is underscored by the process of
physical upheaval in the house. For even without attempting to enlist Jane
Austen in the bourgeois cultural revolution, one finds clear evidence, pri-

14 In & d s prowatin study of fharactcr and desire in lifcrahuc, Manfield Park makes its
major qpcamw in the ssond c h a m . "'Realism and Ibe Fear of Desk." as a companion
cxamplc to Ballac's Lo P e a & cho.qrin. The l a m teat is perhaps the pwfst allegory of th
dest~ycriwDatun of dcsirc in " d s t i c " fiction: Ibe talisman has a magic power to fulfil tk
hero's every wish, but with c a ~ hdesire, th skin shrinks and fhc protagonin's life gmws s h m ,
arnyersely a refusal a &sin literally entails a prolongation of life.

15 Anri-Oedipus: C q i k d i m Md Schizophnnio, trans. Robm Hurley, MarL Sgm, and Hclcn R.


Lane (Minneapolis: Uniwrsity of Mimsata W s s . 1983).
136 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

marily in the Lovers' Vows episode, of "dissolution" and "secularization"


in the internal economy of Mansfield.16
For Bersani the novel suggests the expediency of stifling movement
and smothering desire; or, expressed more "dramatically," Mansfield is
all but destroyed, once "the inclination to act was awakened"17- where
the verb act invites a far broader interpretation than mere indulgence in
amateur theatricals. In Jameson's terms, differences of physical level in
Flaubert's "Un Cceur simple" are analogous to realistic distinctions at
Mansfield between the sanity of Fanny in her Little white attic and the
licence (in effect, another form of "dissolution") of the amateur players
in the house below.
Existential space is also closely linked with the most interesting-and
frequently analysed-structural feature of the novel, the use of certain
elaborate figurative devices for thematic ends: the most striking exam-
ples are the exploration of the grounds at Sotherton, and the involvement
with amateur theatricals. If the dramatic escape of Henry and Maria
from "wilderness" to park illustrates Bersani's concept of disruptive de-
sire in nineteenth-century realistic fiction, the activity of "improvement"
would be equivalent to the revolutionary transformation of space envis-
aged by Jameson; or alternatively, if the subsequent venture into amateur
theatricals permits a quite literal "acting out" of the desublimated desires
identified by Besani, the radical alterations undertaken within Mansfield
are analogous to the modifications in Jameson's realist floor plan.
At its simplest, the excursion to Sotherton is an obvious example of the
desire in restless, disaffected, or merely innovative youth to (re)create or
(re)cover space. Whatever the thematic associations of "improvement,"
the initial interest in the activity may be seen as a pursuit of spatial
metamorphosis (analogous to the physical transformation of Sir Thomas's
study into a theatrical green-room). The actual descent from the terrace of
Sotherton into the adjacent "wilderness" may be regarded as territorial
expansion4r even retreat-while the unauthorized passage into the
park beyond is a clear enough act of transgression. The wood between
terrace and patk is as dense in literary connotations as in tree-the
I6 In Thc Realist F l e x Ran" (rrprinted in Signs, cd.Marshall Blonsky [Oxford: Basil Bla~kweU.
19851) lamson writcs of a 'systcmatie dissolution of Ihe nmaining traces of ... hierarchical
" 373).
srmchucs" (o.
~~~ ~
~ defined
. . more ~. .
~ emlicitlv ss rhe bourneois
" eultuml rcvolurion. He illuswtes
the pms by an erhausovc semiotic d n g of Ihe pmvinc~alhouse described in Flaubm'S
"Un Crrw smplc" that n m s v a Flaubcn's i n s i s m e on d~fferrmrof level. vhlch am soclal
lparlau and kirchcn). but alw phystcal (bunlly the ' t a u o of many a rumble").
17 Bersani, p. 76.
SPACE I N MANSFIELD P A R K 137

intertextuality surrounding the iron gates is as hazardous as the spikes; it


is difficult, in fact, to retrieve the consistent allegory latent in this episode
without obvious exaggeration of certain details or crude suppression of
others; this enterprise, too, may therefore be conveniently deferred to a
separate discussion of hermeneutic space.'s
The second great figurative episode of the novel-the theatrical
activity-is less problematic. Notwithstanding biographical evidence for
the popularity of amateur theatricals in Jane Austen's own family, the
characters' reservations over the performance of Lovers' Vows reflect
widespread cultural assumptions about the moral ambivalence of the
stage. Edmund objects specifically to "the licence which every rehearsal
must tend to create" (p. 175). a process pointedly illustrated by Mary
with her arch inquiry, "What gentleman among you am I to have the
pleasure of making love to?" (p. 167). But despite the more obvious pro-
cesses of sexual sublimation involved, erotic licence is only part of a
more general (often ironic) linguistic freedom: thus Tom, attempting to
recruit Fanny to the cast as "cottager's wife," remarks "a few wrin-
kles, and a little of the crowsfoot at the comer of your eyes, and you
will be a very proper, little old woman" (p. 169). a not inapposite com-
ment on Jane Austen's least vivacious heroine. Such a remark would, of
course, be unthinkable outside a theatrical context.
But the greatest emotional investment in Lovers' Vows is made by Mary
and Henry Crawford. Mary will later allude to her "reverie of sweet re-
membrances" (p. 354). intimate rehearsals with Edmund, then only acting
the part of a clergyman and momentarily forgetting his avowed inten-
tion of becoming one. Most enthusiastic of all is Henry; if Mansfield is
severely threatened by the growing desire to act-in both the extended
and more restricted senses of the term-then Henry Crawford's memory
of the theatricals is a simple and eloquent expression of existential nos-
talgia: "We were all alive" (p. 236). More ominously, Henry is also the
best actor: "whether it were dignity or pride, or tenderness or remorse, or
whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty" (p. 335).
Ultimately he will attempt a kind of improvised, living theatre in his de-
clared intention of making Fanny fall in love with him. This passage sets
a logical limit to the existential appropriation of space: in his own pro-
cess of dissolution, psychic no less than moral, Henry seems to deny the
concept of stable personality in a striking prefiguration of the modem
18 Edwards \Mites suggestively of Mary's wish to see k wilderness as a "Fomt of Love (aat
least Dalliance) ... where fime and space an suspended" (p. 53).
138 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

"fragmented self." If, as Derrida suggests, there is no hors-texte, Henry


at least has the satisfaction of writing his own scripts. The episode thus
seems to provide the perfect illustration of Bersani's fundamental op-
position between stability of character and fulfilment of &sublimated
desire.
Two other less prominent episodes in the novel demand a figurative
reading. In the game of Speculation (chap. 25). the appropriation of
space is enacted in terms of purely linguistic license.. The game, as its
name suggests, allows a double entendre in allusions to Mary's pursuit
of Edmund. The strategy appears, for example, both in Mary's cryptic
declaration ("I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game,
it shall not be from not striving for if" and in the narrator's ambivalent
comment ("The game was her's, and only did not pay her for what she
had given to secure it," p. 251).
The incident of William's cross and Edmund's chain (chap. 27). a final
example of Jane Austen's allegorical figuration, can be read as a process
of existential enlargement in the sense that Fanny is extricated from
unpleasant and restrictive space. She is spared the anguish of wearing
the chain presented to her by Henry, the unwanted suitor. When only
Edmund's chain will pass through William's cross, Fanny is able, in a
fairly obvious piece of symbolism, to attend the ball wearing the tokens
of the two people she loves best. The link with the concept of existential
space is admittedly tenuous, although Edmund's thinner alternative chain
does succeed-with a rather crude literalism-in getting Fanny out of a
tight hole!

@
To turn from topography, "topoanalysis," or "existentialism" to questions
of diegetic or hermeneutic space immediately involves a less holistic and
more decentm-if not actually subversive-reading strategy. Specifi-
cally, diegetic space refers here to sites of ambiguity or indeterminacy
within the text.I9 These occur, above all, in two contexts in Mansfield
Park: most obviously (and self-consciously) as a certain resistance, in
the final chapter, to conventional patterns of closure, but also in presum-
ably less conscious inconsistencies of narrative voice in the body of the
19 Gcoctlc's classic a~counlof minusis and dicgesis wfes the distioctiaa back to its mrce in
Plate's RcpbI*.. Basically. PlMo a p w c d diegesis (when Homer told the story in his own
voice), but dissppoved of mimesis (when be attempted to imitate Agamcmnon or Acbillcs).
See W Omcac,Figures oflitemry Discourse, trans. Alan SMdm (New Yo& Columbia
University h s . 1982). pp. 128-33, and 137-38.
SPACE IN M A N S F I E L D P A R K 139

text. Thus chapter 48, in an ironic gesture towards the fictional conven-
tion of just deserts for past actions, begins with the famous dismissal:
"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects
as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault
themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest" (p.
446).
In Edmund's eventual realization of his true feelings for Fanny, the
narrative further undermines expectations of orderly dhouement: "I pur-
posely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at
liberty to fix their own" (p. 454), a comment which may perhaps be re-
garded as a playful abrogation of responsibility, and even, in its blithe
gesture towards reader participation, as a faint anticipation of the Barthe-
sian concept of the "writerly rext."
Two other comments in the final chapter create further diegetic space,
but only at the cost of foregrounding authorial presence and under-
mining the impression of an autonomous and fairly detached narrator:
of Fanny, the narrator announces with an ingenuousness which would
have delighted Thackeray and appalled James, "I have the satisfaction of
knowing [that she] must have been happy" (p. 446, my emphasis). Re-
garding Fanny's appropriateness for Edmund we are told simply: "She
was of course only too good for him" (p. 455).
Most incongruous of all is Fanny's final judgment of Mansfield par-
sonage: "as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as every thing else, within the
view and patronage of Mansfield Park,had long been" (p. 457). Many a
discussion of Jane Austen's irony begins with the classic opening lines of
Pride and Prejudice, and yet, in view of the egoism and discord rampant
at Mansfield Pad-together with the interminable sufferings inflicted on
Fanny-one may easily regard the final words of this novel as the last
and heaviest ironic stroke. If other quotations from the final chapter are
simply playful evasion of the kind of closure prescribed by the tradi-
tional marriage plot, or a cheerful subversion of narrative autonomy, the
final lines have a more serious implication: they might be regarded as an
ironic comment from Fanny, subtly presented by "internal analysis" or
(to use Donit Cohn's more satisfactory term) "psycho-narration."" But
this is unlikely when far simpler narrative conventions are suddenly sus-
pended, and the lines seem almost a throwaway ending, contradicting
several hundred pages of textual evidence, and thus undermining the
entire "realistic" foundation of the novel.
20 Donit Cohn. Tmnrparent Mind.; Narrative Modes for Presenting Comeiowness in Fiction
(Rinceton: Rinceton University Press. 1978). pp. 22-58.
140 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

A second less obvious form of diegetic space in Mansfield Park is


linked with the fairly frequent anomalies and inconsistencies of narrative
voice. This question may, in turn, be treated as a corollary of two rela-
tive commonplaces in Jane Austen criticism: the increased harshness of
the later novels and the structural significance of the "two sister" motif.
In later years Jane Austen herself may have censured Pride and Prejudice
for being "rather too light, and bright and sparkling," and a large propor-
tion of these qualities can of course be ascribed to the novel's heroine.
In Mansfield Park Jane Austen is naturally unable to suppress her char-
acteristic verve, a circumstance which, because of her lustreless heroine,
requires technical solutions no less ingenious than the celebrated "control
of distance" in Emma.z1
Quite simply, she maintains an extensive role for an anonymous and
authoritative external narrator, while producing a kind of mental bifur-
cation (or splitting of types) between the two main female characters.
Elizabeth Bemet may be the prototypical Jane Austen heroine, and her
attributes are here divided between Mary Crawford and Fanny Price,
with Mary retaining Elizabeth's wit and dynamism, and Fanny inheriting
her virtues of constancy and moral sense. Or, to modify the hypoth-
esis marginally, it is as if Jane (or even Mary) Bennet were raised to the
status of heroine, and Elizabeth reduced to the villain of the piece.
As a source of psych~narrative,and even of direct quotation, Mary
Crawford is undoubtedly more interesting than Fanny, and a number of
her remarks have a shock value unmatched in any of the other novels.
Her comment in the Mansfield drawing-room on senior naval officers:
"Of Rears, and Vices, I saw enough" (p. 91) is the most startling piece
of double entendre in Jane Austen, while her immediate disclaimer, "do
not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat" (p. 91) has the obvious ef-
fect of foregrounding the initial ambiguity. We do not normally look to
Jane Austen for scatological detail, and yet such a remark invites us to re-
consider Mary's evaluation of Edmund as "no more than Mr John or Mr
Thomns" @. 224); or even to find new significance in a novel of the
marriage market where the heroine is called Fanny Price."
21 Waync C. B o d , The Rhcforic of Fiction (Rincelan: Rinccton University Rcss. 1978). pp.
24)-66.
22 According to Eric Pamidge's D i c r i o ~ l yofShng Md U ~ o n 1 1 ~ n l iEnglish
o ~ I (8U1 edition, ed.
Paul Beale [Londan:Routledge and Kegan Wul. 19841). the sexual euphemism John %mfusf
appears in writing ca I84Q.F a ~ as y sexual synecdoche is recoded fmm ca 1860. although, as
Pamidge suggests, it may have been c m d auch &cr in this sense, possibly fmm Clcland's
Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Womnn o f P k m w r (1748, 1749). 11 setms questionable, bowever, to
rely exclusively on rhc first w&en evidence for such nolwiously colloquial forms. M&ld
SPACE IN MANSFIELD P A R K 141

More plausibly, however, Mary is the focus of a secular scepticism


first emerging with the satire on Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice;
but the satirical tendency is now assigned to another character and thus
loses something of its narratorial authority. Mary actually displays an
acerbity+ven a cynicism-normally denied to even the most subversive
of Jane Austen characters, let alone her narrators: her condemnation of
Henry and Maria's behaviour, which could otherwise have been confined
to a "regular standing flirtation, in yearly meetings at Sotherton and
Everingham" @. 442). suggests a strangely modem permissiveness; the
witticism about Tom's illness and its prospects for Edmund-"If he is to
die, there will be two poor young men less in the world" (p. 423tshows
a brilliance and a callowness only matched by her sparkling dismissal of
the histrionic Mr Yates as a suitor for Julia: "What a difference a vowel
makes!-if his rents were but equal to his rants" (p. 387).
In this tripartite division of focalization, the more balanced attitudes of
the anonymous narrator (not to mention the scrupulous restraint of Fanny)
might appear to stand in stark contrast with the enormous linguistic li-
cence enjoyed by Mary-perhaps a rudimentary form of diegetic ego,
superego, and id-if there were not considerable inconsistencies of tone
adding a further dimension to the concept of narrative voice. Between
Mary and Fanny, for example, there is a kind of psychic overlap: Mary
in the East room is herself depicted as a Fanny-like dreamer in a "reverie
of sweet remembrances" (p. 354); Fanny, in turn, shows a Mary-like de-
rision in her judgment of Sir Thomas: "He who had mamed a daughter
to Mr Rushworth. Romantic delicacy was certainly not to be expected
from him" (p. 329); or even a certain feminist iconoclasm in her satir-
ical questioning whether "a man must be acceptable to every woman he
may happen to like himself" (p. 349).
In the context of the anonymous narrator, boundaries are even more
confused. Thus the description of Sir Thomas as "so unintelligibly moral,
so infamously tyrannical" @. 207) is a piece of psychc-narrative suitably
allocated to the disappointed Mr Yates; whereas the view of Mansfield
as "all sameness and gloom" or "a sombre family party" comes not
from a thwarted actor, but from the objective "ego" narrator. And it is
Pork pmvides nbcr mox plausible (if less sensational) cases of this kind of "scmsntic slippage."
Whal coMMslions of nahonal sexual stenwtypcs am not contaiacd, for example, iu Mary's
verdict on ha ha-MOOdtd brother. "If you can p u a d c Henry to many, yn, must have the
oddrcss of a Frenchwoman" (p. 75). Hex, a( least, the two relevant senses of the word in qurstion
are rccordcd by the OED as having occumd well before 1814. One might find a mono for this
kind of ambivalence in Edmuad's apology for Msry: "She does not think evil, but she spcalrs
it" @. 275)!
142 EIOHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

finally Edmund, together with Fanny the character most sympathetic to


the Mansfield ambiance, who endorses all three comments by refemng
to the general "want of animation" in the house.
The anonymous narrator, it is true, shows a characteristic insensitivity,
even an intolerance, towards certain less favoured characters. Poor Mrs
Rice is depicted rather cruelly with "such a superfluity of children, and
such a want of almost every thing else" (p. 42); Mrs Nonis, perhaps
deservedly, fares far worse than this. And yet, here again, distinctions of
voice may be blurred, as in the psycho-narrative presenting gentle Fanny's
judgment of her own mother: "she must and did feel that her mother was
a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor
restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement
and discomfort from beginning to end" (p. 383); strong words indeed,
and a fairly brutal imposition of narratorid (authorial?) prejudice on a
supposedly autonomous figure.
One may postulate a common denominator linking the voices of Fanny
and Mary to that of the more balanced narrator who ostensibly occu-
pies some ethical middle ground between them: there is in fact a certain
harshness, even a frustration and bitterness, which occurs almost indis-
criminately in all three, and is widely asociated by many critics with the
second group of Jane Austen novels. To describe this particular form
of diegetic space, we might negate the title of a classic study and refer
simply to unregulated hatred in Jane Austen."

Hemneutic space has already been anticipated in each previous section


of the present essay: for the various dimensions of public, private, exis-
tential, or diegetic space are, after all, no more than concepts generated by
the interpretative enterprise. Hermeneutic space, then, must take into con-
sideration all the other spatial dimensions that this essay has attempted
to explore. It is thus a synthetic notion conditioned by Mansfield Park's
very complexity, a feature related in tum to the rich intertextuality of the
novel. One obvious aspect of the latter is the analogy between Fanny's
story and the traditional Cinderella or Ugly Duckling motifs. Choosing
among the infinite trajectories available within hermeneutic space, there-
fore, I should like to begin by following certain further implications of
23 The allusion, of coum, is to D.W. liarding's essay. "Regulated H a u d An Aspect of the Wok
of lane Austcn." Scrutiny 8 (193W). 34642.
SPACE IN MANSFIELD PARK 143

the Cinderella analogue, before briefly returning to the linguistic texture


of the novel.
In The Uses of Enchantment Bruno Bettelheim provides a useful com-
parative analysis of Cinderella motifs," many of which may be rediswv-
ered in Mansfield Park. These include the important element of sibling
rivalry (Fanny's lot at both Portsmouth and Mansfield); the pattern in
which the humble are elevated, true merit is recognized, and virtue re-
warded (Fanny's relations with Sir Thomas, and later with Edmund); the
vileness of stepmother and sisters (reproduced in the Bertram sisters and
their mother, and, above all, in the cruelty of Aunt Noms). A less explicit
motif emerging in Bettelheim's psychoanalytical reading of the story is
Cinderella's conviction of her actual superiority to mother and sister:
transposed to Mansfield Park, such feelings might explain that irritating
self-righteousness that some of Fanny's harsher critics have detected in
her behaviour.
Bettelheim also refersz to a celebrated taxonomy of Cinderella stories
by Marian Roalfe Cox (1893). where the different versions are broadly
divided into groups: the first and most fundamental of these includes
recognition by means of the perfectly fitting slipper, a detail recalling a
similarly significant fit of Fanny's cross and Edmund's chain. A second
group adds the incestuous desires of Cinderella's father and, as a di-
rect result, the heroine's flight. Neither of these elements is recoverable
from Manrfield Park without considerable textual archaeology, but other
more accessible analogies still remain. Thus Cox also suggests that, in the
second group, mothers and daughters are so clearly identified with each
other that they often appear to be a single unit split into different figures.
This, too, corresponds to the situation at Mansfield Park, where the vain
and complacent Lady Bertram identifies repeatedly with her daughters
("Yes, we are a handsome family"), pointing up Fanny's lack of sophisti-
cation &-at least, b e f m her "Ugly Duckling" transfomtion-equal
lack of physical attractiveness.
Two of Bettelheim's psychoanalytical implications, both revolving
around Oedipal conflicts, may also be relevant to Mansfield Park. The fact
that, as in Cinderella, it is the "stepmother" figure (Lady Bertramh4rs
Noms) and not the mother who plays the crucial role in Fanny's life
may reflect a classic process of displacement (p. 249), confirmed by
24 The Uses of Enehmrmm: 7%e Meaning md Impomnee of Faiq Tales ( H a r m a d s d Rn-
guin Books, 1978). p. 237ff.
144 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

Fanny's ill-disguised imtation with Mrs Price during her return visit to
Portsmouth. And secondly, the "stepmother" who wishes to debase both
Cinderella and Fanny may, by a related process of projection, actually
represent the desire of the girl to debase her mother.
Once established as a sophisticated version of fairy tale, moreover,
Mansjield Park is particularly responsive to the actantial model of A.J.
Greimas, who reduced Vladimir Ropp's seven general mles (in his
Morphology of the Russian Folktale)= to six categories of "actant" as
follows:

sender-object-receiver
t
helper-subject-opponent

Greimas's extremely modest claim that "this model seems to possess,


because of its simplicity and for the analysis of mythical manifesta-
tions only, a certain operational value"" might have been expected to
dispel liberal, humanist prejudices against a purely functional model, al-
though, judging from the limited attention received by Greimas outside
handbooks of narratology, that does not seem to have been the case.
Thus, it might be argued, Sir Thomas Bertram in the helper who en-
ables the subject, Fanny, to come to Mansfield, to the mixed indifference
and hostility of the Bertram women, among whom her most rigomus op-
ponent is Mrs Norris. Alternatively, the Price family is the sender of
Fanny to Mansfield, with the object of the daughter's education and the
family's economic relief; the receiver is ultimately Edmund, Fanny's
cousin and future husband. Goodness such as Fanny's obviously spreads
far, and the viability of the model should not be affected by the fact that
most of the family are eventually also receivers, or that she initially faces
a number of "subsidiary" opponents. Further flexibility is called for inas-
much as arch-opponent Aunt Nonis had also initially functioned as helper
in enabling Fanny to come to Mansfield.
The Crawfords, too, naturally complicate the picture; M w , who, dis-
counting her objections to clergymen, would like to marry Edmund
herself, is another element of the opponent; her brother, Henry (in an
26 Morpholo8y of the R w s h Folktale (1928; reprinted Austin: University of Texas Rcss, 1%8).
27 AJ. Gnimss, S t m m l SernMTies: An Anempr a a Method. Wns. Danicle McDwvcU. Ronald
Schkifcr, and A h Vclie (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Ress. 1983). p. 207.
SPACE I N MANSFIELD P A R K 145

analogous situation with regard to Fanny) is effectively opponent to Ed-


mund's subject, or a kind of "false" receiver for Fanny. Here, in fact, he
might be better suited to one of the seven general roles in Ropp's ear-
lier Morphology of the Folktale (1928). that of "false hero" or even
"villain." There is clearly a point at which the text begins to exert a re-
sistance of its own. Thus the roles of Dr and Mrs Grant in Mansfield
Park are harder to categorize; on the whole, however, Greimas's simple
model is highly accommodating.
Mansfield Park might even be assimilated to a scenario of "space
invaders," where aliens engage in acts of moral and territorial transgres-
sion. But this, too, is a reductive analysis, privileging plot over character
and regarding the latter in purely functional terms. In this context the
scheme may work even better than the classic formalist and structuralist
models of Propp or Greimas, but it also reflects a perennial methodolog-
ical problem. Experience shows that either model, but particularly that
of Greimas, may be applied to most characters in most fiction, but there
are invariably remainders and misfits which can only be found suitable
actantial status by means of fairly arbitrary textual interpretation. Altema-
tively, one may elaborate some kind of ad hoc model, as in the present
case, which will fit individual texts precisely but become increasingly
inappropriate the further afield one moves.
If the sheer complexity of Mansfield Park presents a formidable chal-
lenge to any reductive form of structural analysis, a linguistic (or more
properly semantic) approach, such as that attempted by David Lodge, may
be equally problematic. In The Language of Fictionx Lodge made a pen-
etrating study of two meanings of the word "manners" in the novel, and
listed numbers of other terms associated with each sense. One might,
however, direct equally close attention to the novel's extensive network
of words such as "establishment" (considered briefly above), which si-
multaneously embody, or fluctuate tantalizingly between, concrete and
abstract, or literal and figurative meanings.
The locus classicus of such polyvalence occurs in the "wilderness" at
Sotherton, during an exchange between Henry and Maria:

"Yourprospects, however, are too fair to justify want of spirits. You have a very
smiling scene before you."
"Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally I conclude. Yes, certainly, the
sun shines and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-
28 Landon: Roulledge and Kegan &I, 1%6.
146 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. I cannot get out, as the starling
said." (pp. 126-27, my emphasis)

But such polyvalence is a widespread phenomenon in the linguistic tex-


ture of the novel and requires constant awareness on the part of the
reader. The first chapter alone, for example, offers the elevation of Miss
Maria Ward to the status of Lady Bertram (surely a process more socio-
economic than physical in one who spends so much of the novel supine);
Mr Noms's living at Mansfield (in some ways the clergyman's equiv-
alent to an establishment in all its sensestthe prospect of a life with
Mrs Noms adding a special piquancy to the ostensibly economic de-
tail, "scarcely any private fortune"; the hope of a situation for the eldest
Price boy; and a creditable establishment for Fanny.
A list of related words might he extrapolated from the rest of the novel:
situation, establishment, living, fortune are complemented by estate, of-
fices, address, neighbourhood; or alternatively, avenue, prospect, view,
scene, grounds, project, circumstances, consequence, elevation, property,
fortune; or verbs such as settle, attach, endow and, most pertinently, im-
prove. The relative emphasis to be accorded to the literal or the figurative
may ultimately be a function of individual reader response; but the mere
occurrence of such s a n g concretization as, for example, "begun in di-
lapidation~"(p. 86). used to describe the relations of Mrs Grant and Dr
Grant, demands a certain degree of hermeneutic skill from the reader.
Perhaps the most interesting case is the language used in the account of
Fanny's gradual emergence as an object of interest and desire to Henry.
On the d e p a of her female cousins, she rises in consequence, and
her value also increases (p. 219). Most extraordinary of all, however, are
Henry's expressions of admiration: her "tout ensemble is so indescribably
improved," she has shown a "wonderful degree of improvement" (p. 240).
Henry embarks on his erotic adventure with the same suspect motivation,
and even the same vocabulary, as in his previous landscaping projects.
The sinister thematic implication is that, for Mansfield Park's villain,
people and objects are indistinguishable.
The reader alone, negotiating henneneutic space, must decide where
in such contexts to draw the line between authorial intentionality and
the inherent metaphoricity of language; judging simply from evidence
produced here, however, the text clearly requires close attention to what
Edmund has described elsewhere as "all the holds upon things animate
and inanimate" (p. 344).
But space, hermeneutic or otherwise, is not only vast, it is also presum-
ably infinite; and I conclude by considering a site in the text which seems
SPACE I N MANSFIELD PARK 147

resistant to quantitative evaluation: the visit to Sotherton and the explo-


ration of wilderness and park. When the young people finally leave the
interior of the house with its endless succession of rooms and family por-
traits, an outward door opens "temptingly" onto a flight of steps leading
to "all the sweets of pleasure-grounds," but the terrace walk thus de-
scribed also has a door and another "considerable flight of steps" down
into the "wilderness"; the wilderness, in turn, is separated from the park
by the ha-ha and the iron gates. Some form of allegorical interpreta-
tion seems irresistible; and yet the process of physical enlargement is in
some ways bewildering. In the context of semantic connotation, for ex-
ample, nomenclature is misleading: the "wilderness" is in fact a planted
wood laid out with "too much regularity," while the true wilderness (in
the commonest modem sense of the term) is paradoxically the "park" be-
yond. Narrative cues are equally ambivalent, when the wilderness itself
is described as "a nice little wood" by the dangerously subversive Mary
and, in almost identical terms-"this sweet wood"-by her exemplary
counterpart, Fanny (pp. 118-21).
Neither is the plan of house, terrace, wilderness, and park easily as-
similated to spatial models of the kind suggested by Bacbelard's phe-
nomenology. Descending from the terrace, we are quite uncertain as to
what kind of enclosure awaits us-Eden, Arcadia, locus amenus, bower
of bliss, or enchanted forest-although, as frustrations and misunder-
standings accumulate, the wilderness increasingly acquires the connota-
tions of selva oscura. The rest of the allegory is more transparent: Henry
persuades Maria Bertram to circumnavigate the imn gates and enter the
park beyond, before her fianci, Mt Rushworth, can produce the key-
an act of transgression which prefigures the subsequent elopement of
Henry and Mary. It is not difficult to find sexual connotations in the key,
the lock, and the threatening spikes beyond, or even to pursue the rela-
tion more rigorously through sweet woods (pubes), iron gates (vagina),
and even the suggestive knoll (mom veneris) in the park just beyond.
Speculation is jolted, however, by the announcement a few pages later
that Mary Crawford and Edmund have already found their way into the
park by a "side gate, not fastened" (p. 130). thus creating an awkward
tension between literal and figurative readings of the text.
And here I purposely suspend discussion of hermeneutic space in the
context of a passage which is not ultimately susceptible to homoge-
neous interpretation. The various explorations of hermeneutic space in
this section, together with my previous discussion of other kinds of spatial
dimensions, will not, therefore, lead to unambiguous discoveries. Even if
148 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION

the dimensions of private and public space are regarded as in some sense
complementary, existential and diegetic space apparently belong to au-
tonomous systems, and do not always invariably function separately as
internally consistent worlds. But the indihdual complexities of public
or private space, of existential or diegetic space, can only reaffirm the
prominence that must be accorded to Mansfield Park in the evolution of
the novel. Where public space is concerned there is no comparably in-
tricate or significant topography in any novelist before Jane Austen. In
terms of private space, it would be difficult to find, before Famy Price,
any character so subtly compatible with a psychological model such as
that offered by the phenomenology of Bachelard.
In existential terms, the other young people of Mansfield Park move
within spatial parameters as malleable, and also as explicitly transformed,
as those analysed by Jameson and associated by him with such mas-
ters of high realism as Balzac or Flaubert. Among the young people,
Fanny and Henry illustrate the opposite poles of Bersani's model: fear
and rejection of desire or its fatal implementation. Diegetic space, in
turn,produces narrative voices which, despite their occasional inconsis-
tencies, are, in eighteenth-century terms, more discriminating and more
authentic even than Fielding's "implied" authors and comparable only
to certain refinements found in Sterne's Tristram S h a d y . All four as-
pects contribute, finally, to the novel's virtually limitless interpretative
challenge, the dimension of hermeneutic space.
In the latter context, finally, we may once again reject the sense of pro-
cedures existing to uncover an ultimate secret truth: resistance to closure
is both the privilege of Mansfield Park's narrator and the complemen-
tarylcomplimentary policy of the present essay. For although so much of
the text's celebrated "difficulty" is open to clarification, to have offered a
tendentious reading of park and wilderness by exaggerating selected de-
tails and suppressing others would seem to belittle both the novel and
its author. Whether or not the "wilderness" episode represents an insol-
uble case of textual ambivalence or indeterminacy, it is fair to suggest
that we do not obviously, any more than Henry or Maria, possess a key.
The enigmatic quality of such a passage, in fact, presents a consider-
able challenge to the rationale of interpretation, even as it suggests the
continuing rewards of the enterprise.

University of Turku, Finland

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