The Postcolonial Jane Austen

By You-Me Park; Rajeswari Sunder Rajan | Go to book overview

3

Learning to ride at Mansfield Park

Donna Landry

Mansfield Park is about learning to ride. With her usual social perspicacity, Jane Austen reveals the intimate connection between upper-class English femininity and 'having a leg over', or, in the days of side-saddle riding, two legs over, on the same side. It is hardly surprising that, in their excitement at recognizing the novel's colonial dimensions, recent critics have not noticed this phenomenon. Yet it too has its colonial dimension, in that a sporting, fox-hunting, horse-mad image of Englishness was exported to the empire, where colonized subjects could observe 'group photographs of cheerfully grinning white faces, or of hunting scenes with Englishmen dressed in red coats happily falling off horses' (Keating 1987:42). Advising her readers to marry riding men and to follow outdoor pursuits themselves, Violet Greville extolled the pleasures of riding in India in a manner designed to recruit women for service to the empire:

There is a peculiar charm in Indian riding.… There is something fascinating in the sense of space and liberty, the feeling that you can gallop at your own sweet will across a wide plain, pulled up by no fear of trespassing … free as a bird, you lay the reins on your horse's neck, and go till he or you are tired.

(Greville 1894:27, 19-20)

Training in horsewomanship sufficient to enjoy taking such colonial liberties with native landed property should be understood as part of that 'domestic imperialist culture' identified by Edward Said, 'without which Britain's subsequent acquisition of territory would not have been possible' (Said 1993:95).

Previous generations of critics may have found Mansfield Park as priggish and as lacking in irony as they found Fanny Price herself, but recent criticism has emphasized the novel's social and political complexity and subtlety, its use of irony, and its centrality to Austen's oeuvre. Alistair Duckworth, for example, organized his study of estates and ideas of improvement in Austen's fiction around this novel (Duckworth 1971). Plantation slavery in Antigua shores up the Bertrams' estate at Mansfield Park, as Avrom Fleishman (1967) and R.S. Neale (1985) have demonstrated. Moira Ferguson has read the novel as a post-abolitionist text seething with insurrectionary potential. She observes, 'Lady Bertram is comatose, but can that state last? The condition of indolent plantocratic wives is certainly coming to an end'

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The Postcolonial Jane Austen
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Part I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - Austen in the World 3
  • Part II - Austen at Home 27
  • 2 - Jane Austen Goes to the Seaside 29
  • 3 - Learning to Ride at Mansfield Park 56
  • 4 - Austen's Treacherous Ivory 74
  • 5 - Domestic Retrenchment and Imperial Expansion 93
  • 6 - Of Windows and Country Walks 116
  • Part III - Austen Abroad 139
  • 7 - Reluctant Janeites 141
  • 8 - Jane Austen Goes to India 163
  • 9 - Farewell to Jane Austen 189
  • 10 - Father's Daughters 205
  • 11 - Clueless in the Neo-Colonial World Order 218
  • Part IV - Poem 235
  • To a 'Jane Austen' Class at Ibadan University 237
  • Index 239
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