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Hannah More and Jane Austen: Mary Crawford and Jane Fairfax

Hannah More was a notable figure in her day, her opinions and and beliefs on all matters moral and political being widely read, courtesy of the numerous  tracts and pamphlets she published. As a reading woman, Jane Austen would have been well versed in these hotly debated issues of the day, such as  slavery and women’s rights. Although she rarely writes directly about social issues in her novels, here are two examples of where I see Jane Austen subtly demonstrating herself to sharply diverge from Hannah More on some important matters of morality and religion. A short time ago, Alistair Duckworth directed me to a complex allusion in Mansfield Park to Hannah More’s lengthy 1791 tract  An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World. Subsequently I delved more deeply into Austen’s literary reactions to that tract, and focused in particular on the following passage where Hannah More trained her sights squarely on “the fashionable world” and its role as a moral corrupter: “…prudent skepticism has wisely studied the temper of the times, and skilfully felt the pulse of this relaxed, and  indolent, and selfish age. It  prudently accommodated itself to the reigning character, when it adopted sarcasm instead of reasoning, and preferred a sneer to an argument. It  discreetly judged, that, if it would now gain proselytes, it must show itself under the bewitching form of a profane bon-mot; must be interwoven in  the texture of some amusing history, written with the levity of a romance, and the point

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