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Chabot, C.B. (1975). Jane Austen's Novels: The Vicissitudes of Desire. Am. Imago, 32(3):288-308.

(1975). American Imago, 32(3):288-308

Jane Austen's Novels: The Vicissitudes of Desire

C. Barry Chabot

But self, though it would intrude, could not engross her.

Critics often designate Mansfield Park as Jane Austen's “problem” novel. In so doing, they silently invoke some continuities her other novels engender, continuities Mansfield Park apparently disrupts. The novel obviously differs from Emma, but only as they both differ from Northanger Abbey, or these three from Pride and Prejudice and so on. Such insistence that each text evokes and embodies its own unique fictive world belabors the obvious. The difficulty rests in the conceptualization of the continuities which pattern the differing textures of all Austen's works. If Mansfield Park seems a radical departure from these continuities, an aberration in an otherwise consistent series, that can only mean that we have not yet located the configurations in which these texts find their common origins.

The relations among the various texts which comprise an author's canon have long vexed critics. The existence of continuities has been felt, but they have remained elusively just beyond the critics' grasps. What is lacking, it seems, is a theoretical rationale which justifies the felt commonality of an oeuvre; thus critics experience difficulty locating and specifying the configurations which grant this commonality. This recurrent critical problem—what is it, exactly, that defines X's work?—is a variant of a more general difficulty: the nature of the unity a man's actions and thoughts achieves.

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