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The review attracted Wells's interest and an invitation to lunch at his home.

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The two writers became lovers in late West is also said to have had relationships with Charlie Chaplin , newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook , [12] and journalist John Gunther. West established her reputation as a spokesperson for feminist and socialist causes and as a critic, turning out essays and reviews for The New Republic , New York Herald Tribune , New York American , New Statesman , The Daily Telegraph , and many more newspapers and magazines.

George Bernard Shaw said in that "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could and much more savagely. Her lifelong fascination with the United States culminated in when President Truman presented her with the Women's Press Club Award for Journalism, calling her "the world's best reporter.

In , at the age of 37, she married a banker, Henry Maxwell Andrews, and they remained nominally together, despite one public affair just before his death in During World War II, West housed Yugoslav refugees in the spare rooms of her blacked-out manor, and she used the grounds as a small dairy farm and vegetable plot, agricultural pursuits that continued long after the war had ended.

As West grew older, she turned to broader political and social issues, including humankind's propensity to inflict violent injustice on itself. Before and during World War II, West traveled widely, collecting material for books on travel and politics. In —38, she made three trips to Yugoslavia, a country she came to love, seeing it as the nexus of European history since the late Middle Ages.

Her non-fiction masterpiece, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is an amalgamation of her impressions from these trips. New York Times reviewer Katherine Woods wrote: "In two almost incredibly full-packed volumes one of the most gifted and searching of modern English novelists and critics has produced not only the magnification and intensification of the travel book form, but, one may say, its apotheosis.

She traveled extensively well into old age. In and , she undertook two long journeys to Mexico , becoming fascinated by the indigenous culture of the country and its mestizo population. Her husband became both sleepy and inattentive as he got older. The sleepiness led to a car accident where no one was hurt but Henry was charged with dangerous driving.

He became obsessed by the Norwegian ballerina Gerd Larsen and he would refuse to travel with West but wanted to return to London to be with Larsen. West initially considered this to be purely her husband's infatuation, but she came to think that Larsen was driven by money. At her husband's funeral she had the upsetting problem of Larsen's request to be amongst the mourners, even though she had only known him for 18 months. After she was widowed, she moved to London, where she bought a spacious apartment overlooking Hyde Park.

Unfortunately, it was next door to the Iranian embassy. During the May incident , West, then 87, had to be evacuated. She also spent time with scholars such as Jane Marcus and Bonnie Kime Scott, who began to chronicle her feminist career and varied work. The last work published in her lifetime was At the same time, West worked on sequels to her autobiographically inspired novel The Fountain Overflows ; although she had written the equivalent of two more novels for the planned trilogy, she was never satisfied with the sequels and did not publish them.

She also tinkered at great length with an autobiography, without coming to closure, and she started scores of stories without finishing them. Unfinished works from her early period, notably Sunflower and The Sentinel were also published after her death, so that her oeuvre was augmented by about one third by posthumous publications. West's relationship with her son, Anthony West , was not a happy one.

The rancor between them came to a head when Anthony, himself a gifted writer, his father's biographer H. Wells: Aspects of a Life [] , and a novelist, published Heritage , a fictionalized autobiography. West never forgave her son for depicting in Heritage the relationship between an illegitimate son and his two world-famous, unmarried parents, and for portraying the mother in unflattering terms. Essentially, she felt Anthony was airing in public his accusations against her as a bad mother, which stemmed partly from the fact that she had made a fiction of his provenance.

She had asked him to call her Auntie, and his father Wellsie, until he was about four or five. He also felt she had made a habit of leaving him in institutions in his early years while she developed her career in the United States. West countered by claiming that she spent as much time with him as any child could reasonably hope to spend with a mother who was a professional. She was exasperated at his focus on her parenting, when he did not accuse his father of abandonment, even though Wells had been even more absent during Anthony's youth. Anthony, in fact, idolized Wells. The depiction of West's alter ego in Heritage as a deceitful, unloving actress West had trained as an actress in her youth and poor caregiver so wounded West that she broke off relations with her son and threatened to sue any publisher who would bring out Heritage in England.

She successfully suppressed an English edition of the novel, which was only published there after her death, in Although there were temporary rapprochements between her and Anthony, a state of alienation persisted between them, causing West grief until her dying hour. She fretted about her son's absence from her deathbed, but when asked whether he should be sent for, answered: "perhaps not, if he hates me so much". West suffered from failing eyesight and high blood pressure in the late s, and she became increasingly frail. Her last months were mostly spent in bed, sometimes delirious, sometimes lucid, and she complained that she was dying too slowly.

West grew up in a home filled with discussions of world affairs. Her father was a journalist who often involved himself in controversial issues. He brought home Russian revolutionaries and other political activists, and their debates helped to form West's sensibility, which took shape in novels such as The Birds Fall Down , set in pre-revolution Russia. It would seem that her father's ironic, sceptical temper so penetrated her sensibility that she could not regard any body of ideas as other than a starting point for argument.

Although she was a militant feminist and active suffragette, and published a perceptive and admiring profile of Emmeline Pankhurst , West also criticized the tactics of Pankhurst's daughter, Christabel , and the sometimes doctrinaire aspects of the Pankhursts' Women's Social and Political Union WSPU. The first major test of West's political outlook was the Bolshevik Revolution. Many on the left saw it as the beginning of a new, better world, and the end of the crimes of capitalism. West regarded herself as a member of the left, having attending Fabian socialist summer schools as a girl.

But to West, both the Revolution and the revolutionaries were suspect. Even before the Bolsheviks took power in October , West expressed her doubts that events in Russia could serve as a model for socialists in Britain or anywhere else. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. By Jane Hirshfield.


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You change a life. Yet you are not an artichoke, not a piano or cat—. Yet a person who has you is like an iron spigot. Inexhaustible, your confident pronouncements flow,. And if a small tear swells the corner. The biologist Haldane—in one of his tenderer moments—. In the wider community, judgement is more even-handed; Fanny does not take to the young ladies of the town and they, offended by the 'airs' of one who neither plays on the pianoforte nor wears fine pelisses , do not take to her.

Auerbach suggests that Fanny, as the quiet observer, adopts "the audience's withering power over performance". She says, "our discomfort at Fanny is in part our discomfort at our own voyeurism", and that we implicate ourselves as well as Fanny "in a community of compelling English monsters". Paula Byrne says, "At the centre of the book is a displaced child with an unshakeable conscience.

A true heroine. Fanny is unique amongst the Austen heroines in that her story begins when she is ten and traces her story up to age eighteen. The rock on which she stands, enabling her to survive, is the love of her older brother William. At Mansfield, her cousin Edmund gradually takes on a similar role; both young men fulfil the essential role of care-giver left vacant by the adults.

The East room, which Fanny gradually appropriates, becomes her safe place, her "nest of comforts" where, though unheated, she retreats in times of stress. Here she reflects on her sufferings; the misunderstanding of her motives, her disregarded feelings, and her understanding undervalued. She considers the pain of tyranny, ridicule and neglect, but concludes that nearly every incident led to some benefit and the chief consolation had always been Edmund.

The trauma of her dislocation at the age of ten is recalled by Fanny eight years later when she is promised a visit to her birth family. John Wiltshire, returning to the theme in , describes Fanny as "a heroine damaged early by her upbringing, as well as by her quasi-adoption, who experiences intense conflict between gratitude to her adoptive family and the deepest rebellion against them", a rebellion scarcely conscious.

Negative criticism of Fanny sometimes identifies with that voiced by characters in the novel. For some early feminists, Fanny Price was close to being considered, as she was by Mrs Norris, "the daemon of the piece". Many have despised her as "creepmouse", as her cousin Tom does. Margaret Kirkham in her essay "Feminist Irony and the Priceless Heroine of Mansfield Park" argued that Austen was a feminist writer who liked complexity and humour and enjoyed presenting puzzles for her readers.

Many have missed the feminist irony of the character of Fanny. Kirkham sees Mansfield Park as an attack on Jean-Jacques Rousseau 's popular work, Emile, or On Education , which depicted the ideal woman as fragile, submissive, and physically weaker than men. Rousseau stated: "So far from being ashamed of their weakness, they glory in it; their tender muscles make no resistance; they affect to be incapable of lifting the smallest burdens, and would blush to be thought robust and strong.

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She also challenged followers of Rousseau like James Fordyce whose sermons had long been a part of a young woman's library. At the beginning of the novel, Fanny, with her constant illnesses, timid disposition, submissiveness and fragility, conforms outwardly to Rousseau's ideal woman. The once beautiful aunt Bertram, in her indolence and passivity, also satirises the stereotype. Fanny's refusal to capitulate to Sir Thomas' wish that she marry Henry Crawford is seen by Kirkham as the moral climax of the novel.

The American literary critic Harold Bloom calls Fanny Price "a co-descendant, together with Locke's association-menaced will, of the English Protestant emphasis upon the will's autonomy". He draws attention to C. Lewis 's observation that "into Fanny, Jane Austen, to counterbalance her apparent insignificance, has put really nothing except rectitude of mind, neither passion, nor physical courage, nor wit, nor resource". Bloom agrees with Lewis but argues that he misses the importance of Fanny's "will to be herself" as a causal agent in the plot.

Bloom argues that paradoxically it is Fanny's lack of the "will to dominate" that enables her 'will' to succeed. Her struggle just to be herself causes her to exercise moral influence, and this leads her to triumph in the end. Nina Auerbach recognises an extraordinary tenacity in Fanny "with which she adheres to an identity validated by none of the conventional female attributes of family, home, or love".

By so doing, Fanny "repudiates the vulnerability of the waif to the unlovable toughness of the authentic transplant". Fanny emerges from the isolation of the outcast, becoming instead the conqueror, thus "aligning herself rather with the Romantic hero than with the heroine of romance".

To Auerbach, Fanny is a genteel version of a popular archetype of the Romantic age, "the monster", who by the sheer act of existing does not and cannot ever fit into society. In this interpretation, Fanny has little in common with any other Austen heroine, being closer to the brooding character of Hamlet , or even the monster of Mary Shelley 's Frankenstein published only four years later. Auerbach says there is "something horrible about her that deprives the imagination of its appetite for ordinary life and compels it toward the deformed, the dispossessed".

Auerbach argues that Fanny defines herself best in assertive negatives. Fanny's response to the invitation to take part in Lovers' Vows is, "No, indeed, I cannot act. Fanny is "a woman who belongs only where she is not". Her solitude is her condition, not a state from which she can be rescued. Alistair Duckworth noted that a recurring theme in Austen's novels is the way the condition of the estates mirrors that of their owners. The theme of country in conflict with city recurs throughout the novel. Symbolically, life-renewing nature is under attack from the artificial and corrupting effects of city society.

Canadian scholar David Monaghan draws attention to the rural way of life which, with its careful respect for the order and rhythm of times and seasons, reinforces and reflects the values of "elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony".

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Sotherton with its carefully maintained avenue of trees is Austen's reminder of the organic principles which form the basis of society. They represent London's money-grubbing, vulgar middle class, the opposite of Austen's rural ideal. They come from a world where everything is to be got with money, and where impersonal crowds have replaced peace and tranquillity as the social benchmarks. For Monaghan, it is Fanny alone who senses the moral values that lie beneath the old unfashionable manners. It falls to her to defend the best values of English society, despite in many ways being unequipped for the task.

At Sotherton, Mr. Rushworth considers employing popular landscape improver, Humphry Repton , his rates being five guineas a day. Repton had coined the term "landscape gardener" [52] and also popularised the title Park as the description of an estate. Austen is thought to have based her fictional Sotherton partly on Stoneleigh Abbey which her uncle, Rev Thomas Leigh, inherited in On his first visit to claim the estate, he took Austen, her mother and sister with him.

Leigh, who had already employed Repton at Adlestrop, now commissioned him to make improvements at Stoneleigh where he redirected the River Avon, flooded a section of the land to create a mirror lake, and added a bowling green lawn and cricket pitch. Over family dinner, Mr Rushworth declares that he will do away with the great oak avenue that ascends half a mile from the west front.

Mr Rutherford misunderstands Repton. In his book, Repton writes cautiously of 'the fashion Rushworth's conversation follows closely that of Repton's parody. The materialist Mary Crawford, thinks only of the future, willing to accept any improvements money can buy, providing she does not have to experience present inconvenience. Henry lives for the present moment, only interested in playing the role of improver. Only the introverted and reflective Fanny can hold in her mind the bigger picture of past, present and future.

Henry Crawford is full of his own ideas for improvements when exploring Sotherton's landscape. The Napoleonic Wars — are part of the novel's hidden background. Calvo, quoting Roger Sales, says Mansfield Park can be read as a Condition-of-England novel that 'debates topical issues such as the conduct of the war and the Regency crisis'. Estates, like society, might be in need of improvements, but the changes allegedly advocated by Repton were unacceptable innovations, alterations to the estate that, symbolically, would destroy the entire moral and social heritage.

Austen, aware of the fragility of a society uninformed by responsible individual behaviour, is committed to the inherited values of a Christian humanist culture. The French Revolution was in Austen's view an entirely destructive force that sought to wipe out the past. She fled to Britain where, in , she married Henry Austen. Warren Roberts interprets Austen's writings as affirming traditional English values and religion over against the atheist values of the French Revolution.

This is contrasted with Mary Crawford's attitude whose criticism of religious practice makes her an alien and disruptive force in the English countryside. Juliet McMaster argued that Austen often used understatement, and that her characters disguise hidden powerful emotions behind apparently banal behaviour and dialogue.

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Edmund is asking Mary to love him for who he is, while Mary indicates she will only marry him if he pursues a more lucrative career in the law. To subtly press her point, Austen has set the scene in the wilderness where their serpentine walk provides echoes of Spencer's , The Faerie Queene , and the "sepentining" pathways of the Wandering Wood. The knight nearly abandons Una, his true love, for Duessa, the seductive witch.

So too, Edmund the would-be Church of England minister is lost within the moral maze of Sotherton's wilderness. Others have seen in this episode, echoes of Shakespeare's As You Like It , though Byrne sees a more direct link with regency stage comedy, in particular George Colman and David Garrick 's highly successful play, The Clandestine Marriage inspired by Hogarth's series of satirical paintings, Marriage A-la-Mode with which Austen was very familiar, which had a similar theme and a heroine called Fanny Sterling.

Sir Thomas later praises Fanny's sterling qualities. At Sotherton, it is described as "a planted wood of about two acres John chapter 3 links the Moses story "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness Byrne suggests that the "serpentine path" leading to the ha-ha with its locked gate at Sotherton Court has shades of Satan's tempting of Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a symbolic forerunner of the future moral transgressions of Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford. Colleen Sheehan compares the scenario to the Eden of Milton 's Paradise Lost , where the locked iron gates open onto a deep gulf separating Hell and Heaven.

The characters themselves exploit Sotherton's allegorical potential. Maria responds, "Do you mean literally or figuratively? She complains of being trapped behind the gate that gives her "a feeling of restraint and hardship". The dialogue is full of double meanings. Even Fanny's warnings about spikes, a torn garment and a fall are unconsciously suggestive of moral violence. Henry suggests subtlety to Maria that, if she "really wished to be more at large" and could allow herself "to think it not prohibited", then freedom was possible.

Later in the novel, when Henry Crawford suggests destroying the grounds of Thornton Lacy to create something new, his plans are rejected by Edmund who insists that although the estate needs some improvements, he wishes to preserve the substance of what has been created over the centuries. Edmund's reformist conservatism marks him out as a hero. Jocelyn Harris views Austen's main subject in Mansfield Park as theatricality in which she brings to life a controversy as old as the stage itself.

Some critics have assumed that Austen is using the novel to promote anti-theatrical views, possibly inspired by the Evangelical movement. Harris says that, whereas in Pride and Prejudice , Austen shows how theatricality masks and deceives in daily life, in Mansfield Park, "she interrogates more deeply the whole remarkable phenomenon of plays and play-acting". Returning after two years from his plantations in Antigua, Sir Thomas Bertram discovers the young people rehearsing an amateur production of Elizabeth Inchbald 's Lovers' Vows adapted from a work by the German playwright, August von Kotzebue.

Predictably, it offends his sense of propriety, the play is abandoned and he burns all unbound copies of the play. Fanny Price on reading the script had been astonished that the play be thought appropriate for private theatre and she considered the two leading female roles as "totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other so unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty".

Claire Tomalin says that Mansfield Park , with its strong moralist theme and criticism of corrupted standards, has polarised supporters and critics. It sets up an opposition between a vulnerable young woman with strongly held religious and moral principles against a group of worldly, highly cultivated, well-to-do young people who pursue pleasure without principle. Jonas Barish, in his seminal work, The Antitheatrical Prejudice , adopts the view that by Austen may have turned against theatre following a supposed recent embracing of evangelicalism.

In childhood her family had embraced the popular activity of home theatre.

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She had participated in full-length popular plays and several written by herself that were performed in the family dining room at Steventon and later in the barn supervised by her clergyman father. Paula Byrne records that only two years before writing Mansfield Park , Austen, who was said to be a fine actress, had played the part of Mrs Candour in Sheridan 's popular contemporary play, The School for Scandal , with great aplomb.

Byrne also argues strongly that Austen's novels, and particularly Mansfield Park , show many signs of theatricality and have considerable dramatic structure which makes them particularly adaptable for screen representation. Over eight chapters, several aspects of anti-theatrical prejudice are explored; shifting points of view are expressed. Edmund and Fanny find moral dilemmas; even Mary is conflicted, insisting she will edit her script. Theatre as such is never challenged. The questions about theatrical impropriety include the morality of the text, the effect of acting on vulnerable amateur players, and performance as an indecorous disruption of life in a respectable home.

Other aspects of drama are also discussed. Austen's presentation of the intense debate about theatre tempts the reader to take sides and to miss the nuances. Edmund, the most critical voice, is actually an enthusiastic theatre-goer. Fanny, the moral conscience of the debate, "believed herself to derive as much innocent enjoyment from the play as any of them".

She thought Henry the best actor of them all. Stuart Tave , emphasises the challenge of the play as a test of the characters' commitment to propriety. Norris sees herself as the guardian of propriety. She is trusted as such by Sir Thomas when he leaves for Antigua but fails completely by allowing the preparation for Lovers' Vows. Mr Rushworth's view that, "we are a great deal better employed, sitting comfortably here among ourselves, and doing nothing", is affirmed only by Sir Thomas himself. Historically, Fanny's anti-theatrical viewpoint is one of several first formulated by Plato, and which continued to find expression well into the 20th century.

This fills her with misery but also jealousy. Tave points out that, in shutting down Lovers' Vows , Sir Thomas is expressing his hidden hypocrisy and myopia. His concern is with an external propriety, not the propriety that motivates beneficial behaviour.


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He is content to destroy the set and props without considering what had led his children to put on such a play. A common anti-theatrical theme also stemming from Plato is the need to avoid acting i. Henry Crawford, the life and soul of any party or society event, constantly acts; he has many personas but no depth, consistency or identity.

Thomas Edwards says that even when Henry, during a discussion about Shakespeare, tries to please Fanny by renouncing acting, he is still performing. He measures his every word and carefully watches the reaction on her face. He is a man who constantly reinvents himself. At the first suggestion of a theatre at Mansfield Park, Henry, for whom theatre was a new experience, declared he could undertake "any character that ever was written".

Later still, in reading Henry VIII aloud to Lady Bertram, Henry effectively impersonates one character after another, [99] even impressing the reluctant Fanny with his skill. Even the hopeful Sir Thomas recognises that the admirable Henry is unlikely to sustain his performance for long. Edwards suggests that the inherent danger of Lovers' Vows for the young actors is that they cannot distinguish between acting and real life, a danger exposed when Mary says, "What gentleman among you am I to have the pleasure of making love to?

David Selwyn argues that the rationale behind Austen's apparent anti-theatricality is not evangelicalism but its symbolic allusion to regency political life. Mansfield Park is a book about the identity of England. Tom, whose lifestyle has imperilled his inheritance, and the playboy Henry are regency rakes, intent on turning the family estate into a playground during the master's absence.

If the Regent, during the King's incapacity, turns the country into a vast pleasure ground modelled on Brighton, the foundations of prosperity will be imperilled. To indulge in otherwise laudable activities like theatre at the expense of a virtuous and productive life leads only to unhappiness and disaster. Following the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, mentioning her proposed Northamptonshire novel. Brodrick describes the Georgian church as "strenuously preventing women from direct participation in doctrinal and ecclesiastical affairs".

However, disguised within the medium of the novel, Austen has succeeded in freely discussing Christian doctrine and church order, another example of subversive feminism. In several set pieces, Austen presents debates about significant challenges for the Georgian church. Dr Grant who is given the living at Mansfield is portrayed as a self-indulgent clergyman with very little sense of his pastoral duties. Edmund, the young, naive, would-be ordinand, expresses high ideals, but needs Fanny's support both to fully understand and to live up to them. Locations for these set pieces include the visit to Sotherton and its chapel where Mary learns for the first time and to her horror that Edmund is destined for the church; the game of cards where the conversation turns to Edmund's intended profession, and conversations at Thornton Lacey, Edmund's future 'living'.

Austen often exposed clergy corruption through parody. Edmund attempts its defence without justifying its failures. On the basis of close observations of her brother-in-law, Dr Grant, Mary arrives at the jaundiced conclusion that a "clergyman has nothing to do, but be slovenly and selfish, read the newspaper, watch the weather and quarrel with his wife. His curate does all the work and the business of his own life is to dine.

In the conversation at Sotherton, Mary applauds the late Mr Rutherford's decision to abandon the twice daily family prayers, eloquently describing such practice as an imposition for both family and servants.

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She derides the heads of households for hypocrisy in making excuses to absent themselves from chapel. She pities the young ladies of the house, "starched up into seeming piety, but with heads full of something very different—specially if the poor chaplain were not worth looking at". Although Mary's view is presented as a resistance to spiritual discipline, there were other positive streams of spirituality that expressed similar sentiments.

Mary also challenges the widespread practice of patronage; she attacks Edmund's expectation for being based on privilege rather than on merit. Although Sir Thomas has sold the more desirable Mansfield living to pay off Tom's debts, he is still offering Edmund a guaranteed living at Thornton Lacey where he can lead the life of a country gentleman.

In the final chapter, Sir Thomas recognises that he has been remiss in the spiritual upbringing of his children; they have been instructed in religious knowledge but not in its practical application.