Consuming China: Imperial Trade and Global Exchange in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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In the late eighteenth century, Britain attempted to expand trade with China and satisfy the demand for Eastern luxuries at home. This essay examines how Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park uses global trade with China to criticize a British class system rooted in imperialism. Austen’s novel presents a story of domestic trade as Fanny Price negotiates with her wealthy relatives the Bertrams by means of the exchange of Eastern commodities and transforms their imperial worldview through her creation of a global network at Mansfield Park. By examining how the British consume China, Austen provides a new conception of middle-class identity based on meritocracy and upward mobility. She further comments upon Britain’s involvement in the East by encouraging successful diplomacy through international connection. Situating the novel within a global framework enlarges previous postcolonial readings of her work and redefines her as a worldly writer.