Claude glasses-fashionable devices carried by travelers in search of the picturesque-provide a pertinent introduction to Mansfield Park, for most of its characters are engaged in a process that recalls the device: they are on the prowl for pleasing visual experiences, and they achieve these experiences by framing and exclusion. Fanny Price is as guilty of selective spectatorship as anyone: she cuts and frames her experiences and memories. Though one of the novel's most practiced spectators, she does not relish the gaze of others turned upon her; she cultivates invisibility, rhapsodizing over places of darkness and concealment. She begins to see more fully-and to be more fully seen-when she visits the public places of Portsmouth, but by the novel's end she can become a heroine only by not seeing the distress of others; she retreats (Austen regretfully reports) to old habits. Austen knew from inside how demanding could be the gazes directed upon young women by Enlightenment society: as a young writer her works had been examined first by family and then by an increasingly larger public. In Fanny Price, Austen provides a complex, nuanced picture of the pain of being seen. At the same time, Austen distances herself from the girl who would be invisible. In Mansfield Park Austen summons and then dismisses the figure who fears to be fully seen and to see fully.
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