Rereading MANSFIELD PARK, and realized the entire novel is an essay on “No, means no.”

“Let him have all the perfections in the world, I think it ought not to be set down as certain, that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”
— Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

In fain was her “Pray, sir, don’t–pray, Mr. Crawford,” repeated twice over, and in vain did she try to move away. In the same low, eager voice, and the same close neighbourhood, he went on, reurging the same questions as before. She grew more agitated and more displeased.

Now she was angry. Some resentment did arise at a perseverance so selfish and ungenerous. Here was again a want of delicacy and regard for others which had formerly so struck and disgusted her. Here was again a something of the same Mr. Crawford whom she had so reprobated before. How evidently was there a gross want of feeling and humanity where his own pleasure was concerned; and alas! how always known no principle to supply as a duty what the heart was deficient in!

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5 thoughts on “Rereading MANSFIELD PARK, and realized the entire novel is an essay on “No, means no.””

  1. Yes, this is wonderful!

    But I just discovered your site and wanted to tell you how much we LOVE
    listening to your reading of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. Is there somewhere I can see what else you’ve read?


  2. The entire novel?

    I certainly see it in Henry’s pursuit of Fanny (and the family’s reactions). love/loathe how completely clear it was that Fanny was entirely incapable of rejecting Henry in any meaningful way. But that’s such a small part of the book. Do you see “No means no” as an overall theme in the rest of the novel as well? (If you, I would not object if you chose to expand on this subject via puppet….)

    Personally, I’ve found Abigail Nussbaum essays on Austen to be eye-opening for me. In addressing Mansfield Park, she sees the primary point as “to stress the importance of character by pitting a heroine who has it–and almost no other virtue–against a romantic rival who possesses everything but.” Indeed, a lot of the real “action” in the book stems from the liberties some of the characters are willing to take – and Henry’s escapades with the entirely-obliging Maria Bertrem are frowned upon by the narrative as much or more than his refusal to take Fanny’s “no” for an answer. Nussbaum touches on the way Henry’s pursuit of Fanny is even presented as a possible path of redemption for Henry – a flawed path, a path embarked upon for entirely the wrong reasons, but with its positive elements nonetheless.

    That seems to me closer to the heart of the novel than what you’re suggesting, but I’m always up for interpretations of Austen – if you’ve got more to say on this, I’d love to hear it 🙂

    1. Austen repeatedly has characters who, for whatever reason, say “no” and then are pressured into reversing their decision. Edmund and the play. Fanny and the play, although she sticks to her guns. Susan and the silver knife. Mrs. Rushworth initially rebuffs Crawford when they meet again, and he pursues her because he can’t stand that she’s saying no. That’s not to say that the novel isn’t also an essay on other things, but the “no means no” thing runs all the way through it.

  3. Austen very subtly hints at Bertrem’s involvement in the slave trade and his treatment of them when he is in the Caribbean, leading to his eldest son’s withdrawal and disillusionment. This is the most sinister revelation of how people force their will upon others.

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