Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Final Projects

We’re going to read NA and MP and continue our discussions of the final project.

As you read NA or MP, think about Austen’s relation to the sentimental or didactic models of reading represented by Richardson or Burney. If there’s a “reformation” or “correction” of the heroine/coquet, how does it happen? What role does literary reading play in this process? What (or who) are the obstacles to the heroine’s pursuit of self-knowledge and agency?

As you read MP, think about the differences in the depictions of the West Indies and the slave trade between the Woman of Colour (1808) and MP. What representational choices did Austen make that Anon. did differently? What implications would you draw from those choices?

We’ll also discuss the differences between this heroine and her story and the earlier fiction. Whatever other issues you find of interest please bring to class for us to discuss.

As for the final project, I’d like you each to put into the comments some kind of status report about the emerging topic. It could take a number of different forms:

  • a formal proposal, including authors and works, topic, and a few potential scholarly secondary sources;
  • a free-write about your topic, with the literary works you’re using and any potential scholarly sources;
  • a passage from one or more of your sources that you feel could be researched and elaborated into a more extended essay.

Please post those by classtime on Monday.

See you soon,



Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

6 thoughts on “Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Final Projects”

  1. Most of my research has been about reading a homoerotic subtext in female friendships in 18th century literature. I had initially planned to use Clarissa as my main text from the class and analyze Clarissa and Anne Howe’s relationship, but reading Mansfield Park I was struck by the relationship between Fanny and Miss Crawford. Unlike Anne Howe and Clarissa who hardly come into actual physical contact with one another in the novel, Fanny and Miss Crawford have extended physical interactions as two corners of a love triangle. In fact, it could be argued that the two of them share the most romantic scenes of the novel in their “wooing” of each other on behalf of the men (Edmund and Mr. Crawford). The ensuing romantic charge of these scenes could easily (in my opinion at least) be interpreted as homoerotic. Their relationship seems a good one to focus on for this project in particular thanks to to the complication their “friendship” faces as romantic rivals, and perhaps even antagonists by the end of the novel. In many ways this seems to predict the set-up for much of the explicitly (or intentionally homoerotic) lesbian media of today and the “frenemies” trope which so commonly exists in representations of female friendships.

    I’m not sure what particular contemporary text I want to analyze alongside Mansfield Park, but I think I might choose something like the 2009 film Jennifer’s Body which, in presenting a sapphically charged female friendship depends on very similar positioning of its characters as takes place in Mansfield Park. Here, the friendship/antagonist/romantic-interest matrix that I believe exists subtextually in Austen’s novel is more or less made explicit.

    Because of the shift in my project, I have to rethink a few of my sources. Many of them will still apply, especially within the context of Austen’s 18th century inspirations and the timing of her actual writing. Because of this, many of the texts that I looked at for the annotated bib a few classes ago would still apply—especially in terms of tracking the homoerotic female friendship as a fairly standard reading of texts like this. To this end, the Emma Donoghue’s book: Passions Between Women, Janet Todd’s book: Women’s Friendship in Literature, and Randolph Trumbach’s article “London’s sophists: from three sexes to four genders in the making of modern culture” will all be helpful. Unlike Clarissa, where a number of scholars have written about the relationship between Clarissa and Anna Howe through a romantic/sapphic lens, I can’t seem to find much similarly written about Fanny and Miss Crawford. To me, this lack represents a gap in the scholarship surrounding the novel which hopefully my project can help to fill. I have also found a number of articles that talk about Miss Crawford’s morality and placement in the novel which I believe will be helpful to me as well.


  2. Evolution and Subversion of the Rape Trope in 18 c. Fiction and Beyond: from Shakespeare to Clarissa to Bridgerton

    The act of rape, both attempted and successful, is a trope that is not only rife across 18th c. fiction, but one, I would argue, that has morphed and become subverted over the course of the last few centuries: starting from the depictions of attempted rape in early adaptations of Shakespeare and amatory fiction (such as The Reformed Coquette), to Richardson’s pivotal and climactic rape scene in Clarissa, to more modern texts, including the 1928 film, The Wind, which introduces the concept of rape survival, and most recently in the Regency era Netflix TV series Bridgerton, in which the rape trope is subverted when the main female lead forces her husband to completely consummate their marriage and realizes that he has lied to her about his ability to bear children. The use of rape as a plot point seems to have originated in early radical adaptations of Shakespeare, in which “attempted rape” is first introduced, in order to “establish moral distinctions…provid[ing] clear evidence of villainy, making the distinction between good and evil characters more obvious (40).” Similar evidence is present in early amatory fiction such as Davys’ Reformed Coquette, an episodic and increasingly precarious narrative in which Amoranda is almost physically overtaken on more than one occasion, until she is ultimately rescued by Formator/Alanthus, and is ultimately reformed. The attempted rape quickly transitions to the act of successful rape in Richardson’s Clarissa, after a long and winding game of cat-and-mouse between Clarissa and Lovelace. It should be noted that the depiction of the actual rape itself is done very opaquely—as Hopkins notes, “much more suspense and horror in the novel for its opaqueness and the reader losing access to Clarissa’s POV at the critical moment,” which probably points to the text’s (and author’s) self-awareness of its inherent taboo. Centuries later, we find Clarissa’s rape trope rewritten in the form of “rape survival,” specifically in the 1928 film, The Wind, in which heroine Letty is violated physically by the wind, but more importantly, by the Lovelace counterpart, Roddy, when she is unconscious, just as in Clarissa. However, instead of dying, Letty lives as a “contented and sexually adult woman who has made her peace with society…revers[ing] the traditional gender roles of ruiner and ruined (195),” as Roddy is the one who eventually dies at Letty’s hands, while she endures. Finally, season 1 of the 2020 Netflix TV series Bridgerton seems to fully subvert the original attempted rape/successful rape tropes found in 18th c. texts. Indeed, a surprising element of the show is the fact that in this series, they make the heroine, Daphne Bridgerton, force her new husband, Simon Hastings, into fully consummating their marriage (in the attempt to have a child) to prove to herself that in their past sexual practices, he’s been deceitful about the fact that he doesn’t want to have children by pretending that he cannot have children at all. Thus, I would argue, the rape trope has evolved significantly, and whatever intended use it held in early 18th c. works is becoming more and more obsolete with newer and more subverted narratives that favor the heroine’s success.

    Text List:

    The Feformed Coquette by Mary Davys

    Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

    Bridgerton, season 1 (TV show, Netflix)

    Marsden, Jean I. The Re-Imagined Text : Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Eighteenth-Century Literary Theory, University Press of Kentucky, 1995. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://www.proquest.com/legacydocview/EBC/1915671?accountid=7107.

    Hopkins, Lisa. “The Transference of ‘Clarissa’: Psychoanalysis and the Realm of the Feminine.” Critical Survey, vol. 6, no. 2, 1994, pp. 218–25, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41555823. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

    Tumbleson, Raymond D. “Potboiler Emancipation and the Prison of Pure Art: ‘Clarissa, The Wind’, and Surviving Rape.” Literature/Film Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3, 1997, pp. 193–97, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43797806. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.


  3. Thus far, I have only been looking at one source, Ruth Perry’s Novel Relations. This source is perfect for my topic, which is why I have spent a good bit of time exploring it. Perry looks at a shift in the focus of the family, from consanguineal to conjugal ties, and how this changes attitude toward women as well as women’s, particularly daughters’, relationships with others in the family, like fathers and brothers. Throughout this book, Perry draws upon a lot of interesting sources, but Michel Foucalt’s The History of Sexuality was particularly fascinating. Perry summarizes the part of his argument relevant to hers: the merging of the rules of kinship with sexuality “gave rise to the modern middle-class conjugal family which was incestuous at its conception” (378). Perry adds to this claim: “The possibility of incest keeps the sexual excitement of the family alive and, conversely, the sexual nature of the family with its economies of desire and need keep alive the possibility of incest” (378). She paints a cyclical picture of the family revolving around desire and need, which ultimately draws sexuality into the picture. When reading this, I was reminded of the Castle of Otranto and how Manfred, at the death of his son and the realization that his line has come to an end, looks to incest to bring new life to his family. Incest provides a new method of forging an alliance in the changing atmosphere of what kinship is considered to be, making this venture of sexuality incredibly important to understanding the eighteenth-century family.


  4. My original topic is “education in the transmission of imperial values in The Asiatic Princess and The Woman of Colour.” The heroines in both novels come from a colored background, have a certain level of prestige back home (a Siamese princess VS a Caribbean planter), and both — after the decease of their mothers — are educated by English governesses. The two heroines differ in two aspects: 1) age. Merjee, the Siamese princess, is much younger; her education has just begun, and through her travel with her governess she will refine her etiquette and deal with people from different social classes. Olivia, however, has finished her formal education but needs to apply her lessons to practice as she travels to England to marry and obtain her properties. 2) race. Merjee, the Siamese princess has Siamese parents, while Olivia is a Creole with a Caribbean mother and an English father. 

    The issue of race, however, gets a little complicated as it is intermingled with class. The interaction between Merjee and her governess Lady Emma, for example, can be categorized into several hierarchies: 1) children vs governess 2) colored vs white 3) royalty vs lesser nobility. In the first two hierarchies, Lady Emma has more authority over Merjee. In the third hierarchy, Merjee has more authority because of her superior status. While The Asiatic Princess fits into the category of children’s books that are educational and target a specific audience, its dedication to Princess Charlotte of Wales gives it an additional layer of meaning: to instill a sense of authority in the young princess towards her governesses. In the case of Olivia, her mixed identity as a Creole also gives her an ambivalent position in England. Her virtues and etiquette qualify her as an English lady (and make her far superior to the colonial Nouveau Riche) but her color singles her out and necessitates a special sanction (in the form of marriage) before she is allowed to claim her rightful properties.

    In reading The Asiatic Princess and The Woman of Colour, I kept thinking of the latter as a sequel to the former. As the heroine matures from Merjee to Olivia, she becomes a reformed Other (Bhabha’s idea of colonial mimicry) who is similar to the colonizers, yet still differentiable. Such a reformed Other justifies imperialism as the colonizer and the colonized are not entirely different (this might justify independence: who are you to rule over a people completely different from you?), nor are they completely the same (you cannot rule someone is such way if they are exactly like you). In the case of Olivia, however, she becomes dangerously close to being (or even better than) an English in virtue and etiquette. Her interaction with George almost implies that the ill-constructed theory of color is the only thing that differentiates them, without which colonialism will be unjustified. Yet her education as an English lady also proves the success of colonialism. As she goes back as a widow to educate and proselytize, she is on track to becoming a better administrator of the colonized than the English colonizers. The same will likely happen to Merjee after she finishes her education, and more successfully because Siam is an independent kingdom. (mirroring the conversion of Congo to Catholicism?)

    As I read more on my topics I also discovered more scholarly works that cover Pilkington’s conduct books (a precursor to educational novels/children’s novels), anti-Jacobin sentiments in the same era (and the anti-Jacobin belief that children’s books might be used to spread revolutionary values), women in history books/history reading for women (women should learn the right amount of history and avoid “become too learned and therefore unattractive” or “not learned enough…[thus becoming] insipid companions who devour novels, tea-table gossip, and card-table games.”) My focus will still be on The Asiatic Princess and The Woman of Colour, so my objective is to structure my argument further and cite more scholarly works, if possible.

    1. Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse, by Homi Bhabha
    2. A Mirror for the Female Sex: Historical Beauties for Young Ladies, Intended to Lead the Female Mind to the Love and Practice of Moral Goodness. Designed Principally for the Use of Ladies’ Schools, also by Mary Pilkington
    3. Politicizing the Nursery: British Children’s Literature and the French Revolution, Matthew Grenby
    4. Gender, History and Memory: The Invention of Women’s Past in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Billie Melman
    5. Bailey, Elaine. “Lexicography of the Feminine: Matilda Betham’s Dictionary of Celebrated Women.”
    6. Women Travellers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze, by Indira Ghose
    7. Myers, Mitzi. “Impeccable Governesses, Rational Dames, and Moral Mothers: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Female Tradition in Georgian Children’s Books.”


  5. I believe that most of my secondary research will involve reading texts such as Terry Castle’s Masquerade and Civilization and Ros Ballaster’s Fictions of Presence. Futhermore, I intend to utilize the three specific moments in which Fantomina changes costumes from a nun to a widow to a servant girl and of course, as a prostitute in the introduction–to think about issues of class, gender, and sexuality in the act of “acting” or playing dress-up. Clothes take on a heightened meaning as they serve to transform women across many modes and ways of being. This is also represented in the much later play by Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem which features both disguise and masquerade and allows the female heroine to have more power over her lover and her own happiness in life–especially here in the marriage plot. I may perhaps even bring in some final discussion of Fanny in Mansfield Park, in comparison to Mary Crawford, Fanny of course, “can’t act”–what has changed by 1814? In what ways are the theater and masquerade and dressing up viewed differently?


  6. Authors & Works:
    1. Samuel Richardson, Clarissa;
    2. John Dryden, Palamon and Arcite, or A Knight’s Tale;
    3. Geoffrey Chaucer, A Knight’s Tale

    Topic: Female heroine’s and the testing of feminine virtue

    Proposal: I’m interested in looking at the way Richardson adapted Dryden’s verse translation of Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. There does not appear to be much scholarly work on the connection between Chaucer and Richardson, aside from Bassil and Rounce’s articles. However, it is known that Richardson printed a version of Dryden’s Palamon and Arcite, which he quotes from in Clarissa. Rounce observes that Richardson uses Palamon and Arcite to characterize Lovelace as a “misguided lover, lacking the nobility that Arcite reveals in his final uniting of Palamon and Emilia” (44). For my own essay, I’d like to explore the implications such quotations have on Clarissa’s characterization as a female heroine.

    Secondary Sources:

    Bassil, Veronica. “The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, and Richardson.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 26, no. 2, 1984, pp. 157–82.

    Rounce, Adam. “Eighteenth-Century Responses to Dryden’s ‘Fables.’” Translation and Literature, vol. 16, no. 1, 2007, pp. 29–52.


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