Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: Ch. 2

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"My dear," their considerate aunt would reply, "it is very bad, but you must not expect everybody to be as forward and quick at learning as yourself."

"But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant!—Do you know, we asked her last night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, she should cross to the Isle of Wight. She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world. I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I had not known better long before I was so old as she is. I cannot remember the time when I did not know a great deal that she has not the least notion of yet. How long ago it is, aunt, since we used to repeat the chronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of their accession, and most of the principal events of their reigns!"

"Yes," added the other; "and of the Roman emperors as low as Severush; besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals, semi-metals, planets, and distinguished philosophers."

"Very true indeed, my dears, but you are blessed with wonderful memories, and your poor cousin has probably none at all. There is a vast deal of difference in memories, as well as in everything else, and therefore you must make allowance for your cousin, and pity her deficiency. And remember that, if you are ever so forward and clever yourselves, you should always be modest; for, much as you know already, there is a great deal more for you to learn."

"Yes, I know there is, till I am seventeend. But I must tell you another thing of Fanny, so odd and so stupid. Do you know, she says she does not want to learn either music or drawing."

"To be sure, my dear, that is very stupid indeed, and shows a great want of geniusw and emulation. But, all things considered, I do not know whether it is not as well that it should be so, for, though you know (owing to me) your papa and mama are so good as to bring her up with you, it is not at all necessary that she should be as accomplished as you are;—on the contrary, it is much more desirable that there should be a difference."

Such were the counsels by which Mrs. Norris assisted to form her nieces' minds; and it is not very wonderful that, with all their promising talents and early information, they should be entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity and humility. In everything but disposition they were admirably taughtd. Sir Thomas did not know what was wanting, because, though a truly anxious father, he was not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressed all the flow of their spirits before him.

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attentiond. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister. Had she possessed greater leisure for the service of her girls, she would probably have supposed it unnecessary, for they were under the care of a governess, with proper masters, and could want nothing more. As for Fanny's being stupid at learning, "she could only say it was very unlucky, but some people were stupid, and Fanny must take more pains: she did not know what else was to be doned; and, except her being so dull, she must add she saw no harm in the poor little thing, and always found her very handy and quick in carrying messages, and fetching what she wanted."

X [h] low as Severus

Writing & Reading

To the time of Severus, who was born in 145 CE. He was the first of the last dynasty before the so-called Crisis of the Third Century that threatened Rome's political system. It's tempting to suppose that Austen is employing the reference to warn about England's future, but the briskness of the allusion suggests otherwise. 

X [d] till I am seventeen

Custom & Law

Maria or Julia is referring to the formal end of childhood, her "coming out," and the beginning of womanhood.

X [w] genius

Johnson's Dictionary defines "genius" to mean one's nature or disposition when not used to mean "intellectual power."

X [d] In everything but disposition they were admir…

Education

Governesses and schools educated them more or less superficially; wanting was parental vigilance.

Austen's judgments arrive with an arrow's quiet swiftness. She admired the epigrammatic writing of Alexander Pope and speech of Samuel Johnson, as recorded by Boswell, and comic playwrights such as Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose dialogue consists of rapid volleys.

X [d] To the education of her daughters Lady Bertra…

Education

A stunning indictment. The mother's role in the education of daughters (and sons up till about seven) was not only primary but exclusive. Lady Bertram has ignored her fundamental responsibility as a mother and wife.

The paragraph deserves care. Beneath the comedy's veneer is a devastating critique of a woman suspended between terminal indolence, a moral problem, and inertia (if not…

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X [d] but some people were stupid, and Fanny must t…

Writing & Reading

An instance of what is called free indirect discourse, which Austen helped develop and uses to great effect. Indirect free discourse stands between direct speech and internal monologue, giving at once the immediacy of conversation and the intimacy of thought, and condensing what is said to its essence.…

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