A postcolonialist analysis of the tragedy

Terminology[ edit ] The significance of the prefix "post-" in "postcolonial" is a matter of contention. It is difficult to determine when colonialism begins and ends, and therefore to agree that "postcolonial" designates an era "after" colonialism has ended. Spanish and Portuguese expansion begins in the 15th century; BritishFrenchDutch and German colonization unfold from between the 16th and 18th centuries until the independence movements of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in the mid-twentieth century.

A postcolonialist analysis of the tragedy

In the intervening eleven years, I can't count how many times I have seen articles, whether scholarly or popular, which give credit to Edward Said for being the first scholar to point out what is now commonly referred to as the "slavery subtext" of Jane Austen's third published novel, Mansfield Park.

With that brief intro, then, I give you: Both are love stories that seem to end well, but not decisively. Austen even flags this parallel by giving her irresolute male hero the surname Bertram from that play; just as, for other reasons, she also gives him the Shakespearean first name Edmund.

Controversy among readers about Mansfield Park goes back a long way, but in recent years, the perennial Fanny Wars have been upstaged by one major controversy: This refers to oblique textual references to the real world of slavery and abolitionism, a social issue to which Jane Austen has long been thought by many to have been indifferent.

That controversy has piqued the interest of many readers, but even one familiar with the novel would be hard-pressed to describe all its contours, let alone make an informed decision as to their opinion about it.

The flurry of words written on the topic from a range of lay and scholarly particularly feminist and postcolonialist perspectives during the past fifteen years is confusing and nearly impenetrable even to an Austen scholar.

One can readily discern why this has happened; the stakes are high. It goes to the heart of the matter: Amidst the ideological conflict, insufficient attention has been paid to the prosaic, detail-oriented questions of whether and, if so, how that subtext was embedded in the novel by Austen.

Periodically, there have been claims of detection of references to slavery in Mansfield Park, and also in Emma, involving character surnames. However, no single example, standing alone, seems truly convincing, and no previous commentator has presented a unifying principle for linking them all as a group that cannot be gainsaid.

This article claims to be the first definitive intellectual history of the idea of slavery subtext in Mansfield Park. Delightfully, such history turns out to have its own intrinsic interest, filled with the same sorts of ironies, reversals, secrets, near-misses, unintended communications, and suspense that we find in every Austen novel.

The Slavery Text in Mansfield Park The starting point for study of slavery subtext must be the only two specific instances that everybody acknowledges to be some sort of reference to slavery in Mansfield Park: Sir Thomas Bertram has business in Antigua that requires him to spend two years there.

Norris expresses concern that the loss of income from Antigua may materially adversely affect the high standard of living at Mansfield Park.


Later on, Edmund has just gently chided Fanny for not speaking up more with her father, and Fanny defends herself: Their silence may be a reflection of narcissistic boredom; or of horror at a taboo subject explicitly raised; or something else.

Given that all the other references in the novel to slavery are oblique or implicit, the reader is left in an information vacuum. Why would Austen tantalize readers with a pointed reference to the slave-trade, but then leave that reference ambiguous and never subsequently explain it?

We cannot imagine such an omission from an author so meticulous with even seemingly trivial details. A plausible plot device designed to get the cat away for an extended time, so that the naughty mice can have sufficient time to put on a play, only to be trapped by the cat in the act?

Or is it a Stoppardian inversion, with Antigua the submerged bulk of the iceberg, of which the Mansfield Park action comprises the exposed tip? Let us start with the history.

A postcolonialist analysis of the tragedy

With some other authors, we might look to their correspondence to learn about a major literary strategy such as concealing references to large-scale world phenomena like slavery. If she ever explicitly wrote in a letter about subtext in any of her novels, it did not survive.

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Similarly, the opinions about Mansfield Park that Austen collected upon its publication contain no explicit references to slavery or Antigua. Nor do any nineteenth century writers, fiction or nonfiction, take any explicit notice of it, we find only a couple of vague associations.

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Not much to show for an entire century, but this nineteenth century indifference to slavery in Mansfield Park is not surprising. And so a century and more passes in silence on that subject.

It remains for the latter part of the twentieth century for Mansfield Park to begin to yield up its secrets.This is one reason why the mixture of serious and lowly, tragedy and the comic – a typical feature of Shakespeare (a major influence on Gothic literature) that had been decried into the eighteenth century – came to be defended by Horace Walpole and adopted in many Gothic texts.

The analysis takes as a starting point the existing archaeological information on the Manteno-Huancavilca society, which is characterized as a highly complex sociopolitical organization, that occupied a large part of the coastal space, and which extended its longdistance exchange relations as far as Mesoamerica and the Central Andes.

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A postcolonialist analysis of the tragedy

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