At the midpoint of Mansfield Park (1814), the Bertram family dines at the Parsonage, and card games make up the after dinner entertainment. The characters form two groups, with Sir Thomas, Mrs. Norris, and Mr. and Mrs. Grant playing Whist, while Lady Bertram, Fanny, William, Edmund, and Henry and Mary Crawford play Speculation, This scene is central not only because Speculation reveals certain characters' personalities, but also because another type of “speculation” occurs during the game as the players contemplate or conjecture about one another. Moreover, “speculation” in the sense of gambling functions as a metaphor for the vicissitudes of the marriage market for women. Critics have discussed Austen’s word play with economic terms in Emma and Persuasion, but the valences of “speculation” in Mansfield Park have not been fully examined. A close look at this aspect of the novel reveals that most characters, particularly the women, engage in speculation: assessing others’ value, contemplating possible outcomes or alternatives, playing recklessly, and relying on chance as they make their financial and emotional investments in others. Thus Austen emphasizes the risks as well as the rewards of the marriage game for women.
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