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ConnieAnnKirk
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Is MANSFIELD PARK autobiographical?

Some critics over the years have claimed that Mansfield Park is autobiographical or, at least, that it contains some strongly autobiographical elements.  Recently, Barnes & Noble.com ran a book club on Charlotte Bronte's novel, Villette, which has also been claimed to be autobiographical.  I've noticed in both clubs that some readers have had the opinion that these novels are not the strongest of these novelists' works.
 
First, for those of you who know something about Austen's biography, do you find Mansfield Park to be autobiographical or contain strong elements from her own life, and if so, in what way/s?
 
Secondly, do you think autobiographical treatments suffer when compared to a novelist's other work?  Why or why not?
~ConnieAnnKirk




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Re: Is MANSFIELD PARK autobiographical?

There are at least some autobiographical elements in almost every novel -- it's hard for any author to avoid them. Authors don't write in a vacuum; they can only write about things they have experienced personally or can imagine based on things they have experienced.

Their family did, for example, have home theatricals, so that element of the story was probably partly based on her experiences (though I don't know whether they ever performed Lovers Vows at home).

She lived the life of a woman of relative leisure in her time -- her family wasn't wealthy, but had enough that she didn't have to go out to work. The pictures of the women's lives in Mansfield Park, their activities, their music, etc. were presumably based in part on the life she lived and saw about her.

But I don't see a major autobiographical streak here. She was not brought up either in a Mansfield Park or in a Portsmouth slum. It's true that she was wetnursed away from home for her first year or 18 months, but she could hardly have remembered that. I suppose the concept of being raised out of the home could have been discussed in her family and worked is way into the Fanny story, but it seems a stretch to me.

Her father was not a noble, but a clergyman, though I don't think based that much on any of the clergymen we see (though I'm sure she met other clergymen, and may have based hers in part on some of them). She, of course, never married, never ran off with a man, as far as we know never had any affairs. She was briefly engaged (overnight; she broke the engagement the next day).

Basically, though she echoes, as many novelists do, certain elements of her life, I don't see the argument for a significant autobiographical element in the novel.

Perhaps others who have more knowledge of the details of her life can explain further where the concept of MP as an autobiographical novel comes from.
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dulcinea3
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Re: Is MANSFIELD PARK autobiographical?

I don't see an autobiographical connection here.  I think that Lucy's situation in Villette was much closer to Charlotte Bronte's life experiences.  Of course, the early part of Jane Eyre, at the school, was also closely based on her own life, and that part of the novel enhances the story, rather than detracting from it.  What I can see in common between the two novels (Mansfield Park and Villette) is that the heroines are very self-effacing and retiring, anxious not to draw attention to themselves, and also very moral.  Neither is very likeable.  It is really my reaction to the heroines in each case that makes me feel that these are not the best work of each author.  I do need to read more Bronte, though; I have her other novels but haven't read them yet, so perhaps I cannot say definitively that Villette is my least favorite.
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ConnieAnnKirk
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Re: Is MANSFIELD PARK autobiographical?

[ Edited ]
Do you think this might be because these characters are possibly drawn from the authors themselves?  I know you said that you don't think the two novels are autobiographical, but the similiarities you point to in these characters are interesting to think about in that light.
 
~ConnieK

dulcinea3 wrote, in part:
What I can see in common between the two novels (Mansfield Park and Villette) is that the heroines are very self-effacing and retiring, anxious not to draw attention to themselves, and also very moral.  Neither is very likeable.  It is really my reaction to the heroines in each case that makes me feel that these are not the best work of each author. 



Message Edited by ConnieK on 05-29-2008 01:53 PM
~ConnieAnnKirk




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dulcinea3
Posts: 4,389
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Re: Is MANSFIELD PARK autobiographical?



ConnieK wrote:
Do you think this might be because these characters are possibly drawn from the authors themselves?  I know you said that you don't think the two novels are autobiographical, but the similiarities you point to in these characters are interesting to think about in that light.
 
~ConnieK

dulcinea3 wrote, in part:
What I can see in common between the two novels (Mansfield Park and Villette) is that the heroines are very self-effacing and retiring, anxious not to draw attention to themselves, and also very moral.  Neither is very likeable.  It is really my reaction to the heroines in each case that makes me feel that these are not the best work of each author. 
Message Edited by ConnieK on 05-29-2008 01:53 PM

Well, I suppose that the description I gave might also apply to the general impression we have of these authors, although I tend to think that Austen was a likeable person, and I can't quite imagine her being so priggishly moral all the time as Fanny.  I can see Bronte being a bit more reserved and stand-offish, and more like Lucy Snowe. 
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