Jane Austen has been on my mind again recently, because of what I’ll call ‘the Mansfield Park project’ and this led to reading online discussions about Mansfield Park.
What I noticed about much of the analysis, was how few people commenting seem to be aware of the significance of the core intertextual element; the staging at Mansfield Park of a play called Lovers’ Vows.
What readers of the time knew, that we modern readers don’t, is the importance of the choice of the particular play to events that follow. Drawing on the assumed knowledge of her readers, Austen uses the play’s themes as a mirror to the themes and events in her novel.
Of particular importance intertextually is who at Mansfield ends up playing which role. Among others, that Maria plays Agatha, a fallen woman, that Edmund plays Anhalt the clergyman and that, in playing Agatha’s son, Mr Crawford gets lots of physical contact with Maria.
Some of this can be picked up from Austen’s text, but if you know the text of the play it adds – as good use of intertextuality should – a delicious further dimension to the events in the novel. Particularly with Anhalt’s speech, about the nature of a happy marriage, where Austen has Edmund essentially lecturing himself on why Miss Crawford is not a good match for him, while he is busily trying to ignore her faults.
Typical Austen satire and a great use of irony. (I’m guessing she was also prompting the reader to consider whether Miss Crawford or Miss Price were the most suitable match for Edmund.)
I’m not saying that you need to read the play to enjoy the novel, but for people analysing the novel it matters. Thankfully the text of the play is available online.