I was so excited when my copies of the new MLA (Modern Language Association) volume Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park arrived at my house yesterday. I’ve mentioned the book and my essay on “The Tragic Action of Mansfield Park” here before, and I did get to see it for the first time at the JASNA AGM in Montreal, but I now have my very own copies. The paperback cover features a painting called “Fond Memories,” by Charles Haigh Wood, and the cloth edition is a very pleasing dark purple. (That looks very much like Mary Crawford and Fanny Price to me – what do you think? Mary gazing at her own reflection in a pocket mirror, while Fanny sits with her hands clasped, looking up at Mary and figuring out what to make of her character.)
It was more than nine years ago that I first started to write about why Mansfield Park is a tragedy. I presented the first version of my essay at the 2006 JASNA AGM in Tucson, Arizona, after which it was published in Persuasions On-Line (you can still read that early version here). Later, I was delighted when it was accepted for publication in the volume of essays Marcia McClintock Folsom and John Wiltshire were editing for the MLA series. I had long been an admirer of Marcia’s previous books, Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Emma, and of John Wiltshire’s work on Austen, especially his books Jane Austen and the Body and Recreating Jane Austen and his Cambridge edition of Mansfield Park.
If you’re interested, you can read more about Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park and the topics covered by the editors and contributors on the MLA website.
And if you’d like to know more about my essay, you might be interested in this blog post I wrote earlier this year, on why “Mansfield Park is a Tragedy, Not a Comedy.”
I’m looking forward to reading the essays by Marcia and John and all the other contributors. I’m particularly intrigued by the titles of the essays by Pamela Bromberg – “Mansfield Park: Austen’s Most Teachable Novel” – and Peter Graham – “Ambiguities of the Crawfords.” Back when I taught classes on Jane Austen in the Writing Program at Harvard College, I enjoyed moving from the “light, and bright, and sparkling” world of Pride and Prejudice to the sometimes shocking world of Lady Susan and then, at the end of the semester, to the dark and complicated world of Mansfield Park.
I’m already persuaded that this one is the most “teachable” of the novels, and I’m keen to learn new approaches to understanding Mansfield Park, even though I’m not currently teaching in an academic institution. As Jennifer Weinbrecht of Jane Austen Books mentioned on Facebook when I posted the news about the book last night, “One doesn’t need to be a teacher to enjoy reading these books,” because “It’s always fun to gain new insights and discover new ways to think about our favorite works.” Well said, Jennifer!