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Mansfield Park: 'I can't get out' said the starling

Images © H.Talbot

Mansfield Park board header

In Amy's framed format

One of the themes of Mansfield Park is how we regard the confines of society, and what balance can be found between desire for individual freedoms and the penalties we pay for disregarding convention. Fanny achieves an individual inner freedom by observing and understanding the nuances of these confines; while others flout the conventions without anticipating the disaster and limited outlook for their future lives that doing so brings.

The Mansfield Park graphic refers to a scene in the novel that is symbolic of this theme, where Fanny and the other visitors have gone for a walk in the grounds of Southerton, and Maria wishes to explore beyond the iron gate of a ha-ha (a kind of ditch to keep stock animals confined without spoiling the view). Henry Crawford says to Maria:

"You have a very smiling scene before you."

"Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude. Yes, certainly the sun shines, and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. 'I cannot get out,' as the starling said." As she spoke, and it was with expression, she walked to the gate; he followed her. "Mr. Rushworth is so long fetching this key!"

"And for the world you would not get out without the key and without Mr. Rushworth’s authority and protection, or I think you might with little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, and could allow yourself to think it not prohibited."

"Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will. Mr. Rushworth will be here in a moment, you know; we shall not be out of sight."

"Or if we are, Miss Price will be so good as to tell him that he will find us near that knoll: the grove of oak on the knoll."

Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram, she cried; you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha. You had better not go.

Her cousin was safe on the other side while these words were spoken, and, smiling with all the good-humour of success, she said, "Thank you, my dear Fanny, but I and my gown are alive and well, and so good-bye."

The starling reference is a quotation from A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, by Mr. Yorick (1768) by Laurence Sterne, (1713-68). You can read the relevant passages here, in the three chapters The Hotel at Paris--The Passport, Paris--The Captive, and Road to Versailles--The Starling.

There is a playful Mansfield Park graphic on the next page.

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