We can see the attitudes to women through the conversation about whether Fanny Price is “in” or “out”. In the Regency period, the time when Austen wrote ‘Mansfield Park’, women were deemed ‘in’ or ‘out’, ‘in’ meaning that you stay at home and are not ready to accept a marriage proposal, whereas ‘out’ meant that you were going to balls and dinners to try and attract the attention of a man to propose to you.
The first idea of girls being ‘out’ is presented in the engagement of Maria Bertram and Mr Rushworth, who “soon fancied himself in love” after attending a “proper number of balls”. We can see that this is a family affair, with the attitudes of the families and even the public noted: “much to the satisfaction of their respective families, and of the general lookers-on of the neighbourhood, who had, for many weeks past, felt the expediency of Mr Rushworth’s marrying Miss Bertram”. We see here that everyone has an opinion, and wishes for marriage to occur.
We can also see that Maria has not engaged for love, but to climb the social ladder (as I talked about in my last blog post on ‘Mansfield Park’). This is shown through Edmund’s opinion, he saw “a fault in the business” and after talking to Mr Rushworth would say to himself, “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.” However the rest of the family seems delighted, and Sir Thomas believes it to be an “alliance so unquestionably advantageous”. This shows how women were expected by their family to marry well, because their choice reflected on the whole family, and in those days reputation was everything.
Later on a conversation between Mary Crawford and Edmund occurs in which they question whether Fanny is in or out. Mary seems to have the boundaries of in and out very clear, “Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistake as to a girl’s being out or not” and yet she is confused as Fanny does not fit into these boundaries, “I am puzzled. – She dined at the parsonage, with the rest of you, which seemed like being out; and yet she says so little, that I can hardly suppose she is“. Edmund seems to assume that being out is to do with age, “My cousin is grown up. She has the age and sense of a woman.”
Mary then talks about being out or not, and what this should be. For example a girl who isn’t out would wear a “close bonnet” and “never says a word” – which seems like they are just objects standing there and waiting to be out. Mary says that “Girls should be quiet and modest.” which is the attitude of the upper classes to young women at the time. Mary also seems to despise girls who turn to “confidence”, which in our day and age seems ridiculous. She suggests that “One does not like to see a girl of eighteen or nineteen so immediately up to everything” and almost seems to despise girls of this sort. As Mary is a woman we see that this is a general view, it isn’t just old men who are sexist towards young women.
Henry shows the difference between women who are in and out. When a girl, Mr Anderson’s sister, was in, Henry could “hardly get a word or a look from the young lady”. However many months later, she was “then out” and “talked and laughed” a lot. The language Henry uses makes it sound as if this was disgraceful “I felt that I must be the jest of the room.” Edmund remarks that these women who are out “are always acting upon motives of vanity – and there is no more real modesty” almost suggesting that they are immoral. Miss Crawford’s language however suggests this even more, “It is much worse to have girls not out, give themselves the same airs and take the same liberties as if they were,” and goes on to describe it as “quite disgusting” which makes her sound like she is repulsed by the fact, as if these women are somehow whores because they are confident and feel comfortable talking to men.
Henry decribes another situation with another girl, who appeared to be out as she was “perfectly easy in her manners, and as ready to talk as to listen”. This suggests that only girls who are willing to be married should be allowed to talk. As the girl was given all the attention by Henry and was “not out” the other sister was deeply offended, as was the rest of the family. Mary blames it on the fact that the “governess” not being there, as if all girls who are not out have to be accompanied by a governess to ensure they don’t get attacked by some marriage hungry male. Mary then asks whether Miss Prices goes to “balls” or dines “out everywhere”, and as the answer is a categorical no, then it “is clear, Miss Price is not out.”
Thanks for reading,