Thoughts on Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park

The MLA Approaches to Teaching introduces Mansfield Park by providing “The Historical and Naval Background”. As this topic occupies the primary section of the introduction it seems the editors decided that historical context is key to understanding the text, they provide a quick close reading of Austen’s choice in naming cities to make note of this:

“Portsmouth is mentioned early in Mansfield Park but only as the place from which Fanny must make her journey northward, via London, to the Midlands of England. It seems likely that Austen’s original readers were expected to pick up on the significance of the name of Portsmouth…”(21)

The editors’ description of this instance solidifies the importance that modern readers understand the cultural significance of historical and naval context which would have been obvious or common to Austen’s contemporary readership. The introduction supplies the reader with a brief summation of the role Christianity plays in the novel and in Austen’s time, as well as a short lesson on the slave trade during the colonial years. The introduction functions as an introduction to the novel and functions as a roadmap for the topics discussed in Approaches to Teaching, which is divided into sections based on approaches to teaching the novel. This seems to be a functional and appropriate way to approach a novel one has never read, and an intriguing way to refresh oneself of the themes and critical works surrounding a novel previously read.

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