The Church in 'Mansfield Park': a Serious Call?

Oliver MacDonagh


As Mr Crawley said, entering Mr Toogood's presence in The Last Chronicle ofBarset, I stand before you in forma pauperis. Perhaps I should say, formae pauperis, for I am at once a historian examining literature and a mid-nineteenth century governmental man evaluating the early nineteenth-century Church of England. But perhaps also like Mr Crawley's plea, there is an element ofhumbug in my apology. I start with the notion that a nineteenth-century novel and its contemporary surrounds, the institutions and ideas of the day, are mutually illuminating, that they throw their lights back and forward upon each other, energetically. This is hardly so generally accepted, or even so widely disputed, a proposition as to constitute a professionalism of any depth. We are all amateurs here, almost by definition. At the same time, this has-or may have-its special uses. Irresponsibility certainly liberates the imagination, while the avowal of comparative ignorance ought in all conscience to provide the brake. Whether such a spasmodic progress will lead, in this particular case, to uplands or an interminable marsh remains to be seen.

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