Mikita Brottman at The American Scholar:
I now see Austen as a very dark writer and Mansfield Park as her darkest work, a book full of sexual repression and unconscious conflict, with no forgiveness or redemption for anyone who dares struggle against the social code. The world of taffeta and lace exists only on the surface; underneath it, these well-bred young women are trapped like rats. This fact is made most vivid in the scene where Fanny joins a party of friends and family on their visit to Sotherton Court, the home of her cousin Maria Bertram’s wealthy but deathly boring fiancé, James Rushworth, whose extensive grounds include a bowling green, lawns bounded by high walls, pheasants, a wilderness, a terrace walk, iron palisades, and a small wood.
The layout of the scene and its psychology are closely interlinked. As usual, everyone in the party forgets about frail Fanny, who, exhausted by the summer heat (she should have been grateful it was above zero and not raining), spends most of the afternoon on a garden bench beside a ha-ha—a type of sunken ditch used to separate cultivated garden areas from open parkland. A small bridge crosses the ha-ha, on the far side of which is a locked gate. From her seat on the bench, Fanny waits and watches everyone’s behavior with mounting agitation. At one point, she overhears Maria flirtatiously asking their neighbor, the handsome Henry Crawford, whether he thinks she’s as lively as her sister.