In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen allegorizes her understanding of the novel of manners as a form of cerebral theatre that stages philosophical dialogues, centrally the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns. Is nature a tabula rasa, at best unintelligibly moral, or is it informed by an indwelling telos, an intelligibility? Modernity divorces ethics from aesthetics, virtue from pleasure, the pulpit from the theatre, because we have forgotten nature's inherent telos, intelligibility, or mind. Fanny Price's soliloquizing, like Shaftesbury's, actualizes not a static ideal form that invites aesthetic contemplation but an empirical praxis which attempts, like her rehearsals with the mindless Mr Rushworth, to restore the mind, the brain, the memory that our modern understandings of nature have denied. Austen's philosophic dialogue ideally bridges ancient and modern and transforms private, self-educating acts of solitary reading pleasure into acts of public conversation that can be profoundly improving of public manners and mores.
Clark, Lorraine J.
"Remembering Nature: Soliloquy as Aesthetic Form in Mansfield Park,"
2, Article 10.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol24/iss2/10
Lorraine Clark is an associate professor of English at Trent University. Her book Blake, Kierkegaard, and the Spectre of Dialectic was reissued in paperback by Cambridge University Press in 2009.