Mansfield Park

by: Jane Austen

Chapters 37-42

The flurry of letters that passes between characters in these and the following chapters reflect the power of the written word for persuasion and influence. In most of Austen's novels, letters figure prominently as means of justifying oneself or communicating important information. Letters differ significantly from face-to-face conversation in that instant reply cannot be made; the writer must judge his reader and shape his message accordingly. Thus, letters are miniature rhetorical performances; they must accomplish their work without aid from a persuasive speaker, impassioned looks, or profound gestures. Because writing is work, too, letters are indications of fidelity and commitment on the part of their writer; in some way, a letter means what it says more than verbal communication can. Letters will play a crucial role in the climax of the plot. For now, Mary's infrequent letters can be read as a sign of her inconstant allegiances, while her brother's pretty speeches, delivered in person, can still be seen as insincere productions requiring little effort.