“How very wonderful the operations of time”: The Unsustainable Countryside in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park
Robert Markley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In the late eighteenth century, traditional notions of time and history came under pressure from work in three emerging sciences: astronomy, geology, and paleontology. By cutting time loose from embodied experience and biblical chronology, these sciences challenged fundamental understandings of climate, nature, and humankind’s ability to “improve” local or regional conditions by converting wetlands and forests to agricultural production. In subtle and complex ways, Austen’s Mansfield Park registers contemporary anxieties about climatic instability, even as the novel suggests that an appreciation of Nature is crucial to individual and social morality. Ultimately, Austen’s attention to the ecological and economic pressures on the English countryside disclose the unsustainability of an idealized Nature and its susceptibility to change over newly recognized registers of time.
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