As part of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, I’m delighted to share with you a guest post from Jacqui Grainger, former Librarian at Chawton House Library. Here’s Jacqui’s report on a recent symposium held at the University of Sydney, where she is currently Manager of Rare Books and Special Collections. Here’s your “Invitation to Mansfield Park.“ I hope you’ll join us again on Friday — the big day! — for Lyn Bennett’s post on the opening paragraph of the novel.
One of the many events this year to celebrate the bicentenary of the publication of Austen’s Mansfield Park was the symposium held on the 16 April in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library. It was a wonderful way to celebrate my first, and very busy, eight months in my new post as the Manager of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University Library and it was a fantastic complement to the exhibition of Great Novels of 1814 that I had curated. The Library’s copy of the first edition of Mansfield Park requires conserving and I thought there would be no better way of highlighting its plight and launching a fundraising campaign.
The symposium celebrated the works of Austen’s contemporaries published the same year: Frances Burney’s The Wanderer, Maria Edgeworth’s Patronage and Walter Scott’s Waverley – all writers she admired. The timetable for the day was varied but several themes were echoed throughout the papers presented. We began with an introduction by the Symposium Chair, Professor Margaret Harris of the University of Sydney. Margaret had been instrumental in the Library’s acquisition of the collection of long nineteenth century novels in the 1980s in which those under discussion are held. The papers given are listed and summarised below:
Framing the Past: Walter Scott’s Waverley and the Composition of History – Professor Will Christie, of the University of Sydney, which discussed Scott’s fascination with the past. It considered this fascination as a miracle of eclecticism, as a past that is both multi-modal and multi-valent, in how it informs the present and Scott’s interest in periods of conflict. In Waverley, set in the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the closer Edward Waverley and the reader get to the Highlands the more corrupted it becomes. Scott, as a rational lawyer, in his cultural anatomising of Scotland depicts MacIvor, the clan chief, as a charismatic feudal ruler in direct conflict with the tenets of the Enlightenment. The success of Waverley – Austen in one of her letters commented on how Scott could have left novel writing to novelists like her – accelerated the Tartan Rage, the fashion for the trappings of Scottishness, and ultimately the adoption of the Highlanders’ kilt as a Scottish symbol. Scott also stage-managed George IV’s visit to Edinburgh which as a pageant, along with Sir David Wilkie’s portrait of George IV dressed in Stewart tartan, emphasised the Hanovarian king as also the Scottish king. Scott was awarded with a baronetcy for this and in Edinburgh he got the largest memorial of any writer: he pleased everyone.
Invasion and Resistance in the novels of 1814: Jacobins, Jacobites, jabs and Jocks – Dr Olivia Murphy, of Murdoch University, Perth, discussed invasion plots and how in these novels of 1814 the fear of invasion was not at all quick in passing. There were twenty years of conflict between Britain and France and the paper proposed that the anticipation of the end of warfare produced a creative release. In Waverley Edward invades his own country under the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Highlands are romanticised but the Highlanders are seen as ‘sauvage’. In Patronage the loss of Percy Hall and its temporary possession by upstarts is resisted and it is ultimately restored to its rightful, morally steady owners, the Percy family. We can see a similar pattern in The Wanderer with Juliet’s flight from her Jacobin French husband who is finally repulsed with English cash. In Mansfield Park too, dangerous invaders are repulsed. The Crawford siblings are first resisted by Fanny and finally by the majority of the family. The danger they represent though is clearly shown by Maria’s fate.
‘Ovid was a mere fool to you’: Clothing and nationality in The Wanderer – Dr Stephanie Russo, Macquarie University, Sydney (and co-organiser of the symposium), begins by considering Juliet as a ‘shape-shifter’. From the beginning of the novel the characters around her all find it hard to understand who she is. Her racial identity is questioned and she appears in various disguises – poor or rich, seamstress or lady – and she does not convince people that she will not change again. Elinor Jodrell, who befriends Juliet early on, uses her clothes to reconstruct herself as a radical Wollstonecraftian figure: shabby, ghost-like, foreign, man-like and suicidal persona. Both women at times illustrate how clothing and patriotism can become aligned.
Maria Edgeworth’s youthful influence on Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – Dr Ryan Twomey, of Macquarie University, Sydney, presented a paper that acknowledged how Edgeworth’s work enabled Scott to discuss race and national identity. He also raised the issue that Scott in turn had a profound effect on the young George Eliot who was given Waverley to read at the age of eight. Indeed Scott becomes the link, or pivot point, between two women writers whose juvenilia was seminal to the writers they became. Scott’s work was vastly influential around the world and he acknowledged the influence of Edgeworth – the two became warm supporters of each other – in the new generic conventions he became associated with: the regional novel and the historical novel. From his reading of her work he appreciated her ‘Irishisms’ and looked at how she presented her characters’ individual voices, applying these ideas to his own work. The effect of this on the young George Eliot is clear in her juvenilia and in turn informs the development and progression of her adult narratives.
Jane Austen’s revision in proof to Mansfield Park (1814): a speculation – Professor Jocelyn Harris, University of Otago, Dunedin, discussed close parallels between Mansfield Park, Patronage and The Wanderer leading to speculation on last minute editing by Austen of her novel after reading the other two. It is known from Austen’s letters that she had great admiration for both the other novelists. She may too have had access to Burney’s printer through her brother Henry and here there can be some speculation that she got hold of an advance copy; 8000 copies of Patronage sold the first day of publication and there remains a copy in what was her brother’s library, the Knight Collection at Chawton House Library. There is no proof she read this copy but it shows she had access to one – it contains a copy of The Wanderer as well (from 2007-2013 I was the librarian at Chawton House Library). If she did integrate aspects of the other two novels and respond to these two authors we can now see, too, a process of readership, response and ongoing discourse that sculpts Mansfield Park until the very last moment possible.
The day ended with a talk, private view and guided tour of the exhibition The Great novels of 1814: Austen, Burney, Edgeworth and Scott. The Austen aspect of the exhibition will be described in an additional entry to An Invitation to Mansfield Park.