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Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

JANE AUSTEN
1814

INTRODUCTION
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
PLOT SUMMARY
CHARACTERS
THEMES
STYLE
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
CRITICAL OVERVIEW
CRITICISM
SOURCES
FURTHER READING

INTRODUCTION

Mansfield Park, written between 1811 and 1813 and published in 1814, was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be begun after she attained professional success as a writer, rather than being a revision of work begun many years before. It is therefore among her most mature and sophisticated pieces and the one which has drawn the most varied critical and popular responses. The main character, Fanny Price, is a sort of Cinderella who grows from a child to a woman, and above all to a morally mature and autonomous individual, while in the care of indifferent, even hostile, relatives. Fanny's careful moral evaluations of her circumstances and acquaintances have been seen either as priggishness or as a triumph of inner strength against the vicissitudes of life. Of all Austen's works, Mansfield Park has been of the most interest to postmodernists, scholars, and filmmakers alike, all seeking to interrogate Austen's world from the viewpoint of their own contemporary moral orthodoxies, especially in regard to the issue of slavery. The plot and structure of the novel are by far the most ambitious of all Austen's books. She revisits the world of myth and fairy tale, to a large extent basing characters and circumstances on the popular contemporary play Lovers' Vows, in which the characters in their turn stage a production. This complex interaction between frameworks of reality and fiction is rarely seen in stories by Austen's contemporaries or predecessors, being more typical of twentieth-century writers like Vladimir Nabokov and Ingmar Bergman.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in the small village of Steventon in Hampshire, in the south of England. Her father, George Austen, came from a wealthy manufacturing family that had provided for him by buying him a position in the Church of England as the rector in Steventon, a job that included income from agricultural rents. As happens in many of Austen's novels, this left him with the problem of arranging advantageous marriages or other livelihoods for his children (six sons and two daughters, all of whom, unusually, survived to adulthood), to whom he could not expect to leave any sizable inheritance. During the Christmas and New Year's holidays of 1796-1797, Austen experienced the first of two romantic attachments. Her flirtation with Tom Lefroy, a young lawyer, was immediately stopped by both families because neither Tom nor Jane had any income to support a household. Six years later Austen received a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, a friend of the family with a very large income whose marriage to Jane would have secured the financial future of the entire Austen family. Probably for this reason she initially accepted, but she backed out the next day. No definite information about her refusal survives, but it is often conjectured to have come about because of her unwillingness to compromise her personal feelings.

By the end of 1785 Jane and her sister Cassandra had completed a finishing school where they studied such then-typically feminine accomplishments as French and needlework. Jane acquired a more serious education under the direction of her father (who had a degree from Oxford) in his extensive library. During the 1780s and 1790s the Austens spent much of their spare time performing amateur theatricals for their own amusement. Jane soon began writing her own plays as well as other forms of verse and short stories. By the late 1790s she was writing novels that included early drafts of her published works. In 1803 Austen sold Susan (an early draft of Northanger Abbey), but it was never put into print. After her father's death in 1805, her brothers' professional success was sufficient to support the family until the failure of her brother Henry Austen's bank in 1816 plunged the whole family into financial difficulties.

In 1811 Austen anonymously published Sense and Sensibility to favorable reviews and financial success. She followed with Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and Mansfield Park the following year. Finally, she brought out Emma in 1815. These novels were all successful. However, in the early nineteenth century, authors, not publishers, assumed the financial risk of publishing, and she lost nearly as much as she made on a large second printing of Mansfield Park that did not sell quickly. After this, Austen's health declined, and she died at Winchester on July 18, 1817, of an unknown disease. Two more complete novels were published posthumously as a single volume in December 1817: Persuasion and Northanger Abby. Since then her novels have been continuously in print, and her popularity and critical reputation have constantly grown; she is today regarded as one of the very greatest English writers.

PLOT SUMMARY

Volume I

Austen begins Mansfield Park with a brief but pointed summary of the fortunes in marriage of three sisters from a gentry family. Maria Ward, with an inheritance of seven thousand pounds, wed a baronet, Sir Thomas Bertram, who had a large income, and became Lady Bertram. The other two sisters did not fare so well. The second became Mrs. Norris, as wed to an Anglican priest who became the baronet's parson on an income of a thousand pounds per year. The third fared worst of all. She married a Lieutenant Price of the Royal Marines, a man with no money and no connections, in other words beneath the gentry class. This humiliated her family and resulted in her isolation from her parents and sisters. After eleven years and nine pregnancies, Mrs. Price finally wrote to her sisters asking for help. Although she hoped Sir Thomas would be able to do something for her eldest son, it instead happens that the eldest daughter, Fanny Price, then ten years old, comes to live on the Bertram estate of Mansfield Park.

At first, Fanny is unable to make any connection to the Bertram family, who look down on her because of her inferior education and manners (that is, her lack of socialization within the gentry class). Her cousin Edmund, however, a student at Eton and later Oxford, intending to become a priest, treats her as a human being, as an equal, and even as a beloved relative and so reconciles her to her situation. He also takes charge of her education, directing her reading in Sir Thomas's library. The pattern of Fanny's life at Mansfield is soon set. She is educated alongside the Bertram sisters by tutors and spends much of her time as Mrs. Norris's companion, assisting her in the daily tasks of household management (in which Lady Bertram plays no part) and practicing the sewing that took up many hours of the daily routine of most aristocratic women. The Bertrams do not expect Fanny to ever function on an equal level with their own daughters, and Mrs. Norris makes it her business to see that she does not. Fanny is certainly not a servant, but she is not a full member of the family either. Every effort will be made to see that the Bertram daughters, Maria and Julia, will secure advantageous marriages. As for the sons, Tom will inherit the bulk of his father's wealth, although he is quickly endangering that inheritance through gambling debts accrued in London. In fact, while Sir Thomas intends to provide for his younger son, Edmund, by appointing him to two posts in the Church of England that he has the right to fill and which have large incomes attached, he must sell the Mansfield Parsonage (formerly held by Mr. Norris) to cover Tom's enormous debts. This introduces a further set of characters, the new parson, Dr. Grant, and his family

MEDIA ADAPTATIONS

  • In 1983 Mansfield Park was adapted for television broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), directed by David Giles and starring Nicholas Farrell, Sylvestra Le Touzel, and Christopher Villiers.
  • Patricia Rozema directed a film adaptation of Mansfield Park for theatrical release in 1999 by Miramax and BBC Films. It starred Frances O'Connor and the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter.
  • Mansfield Park was adapted for television in 2007 by the director Iain MacDonald and broadcast on Independent Television (ITV), starring Billie Piper.

After Fanny's situation is thus established, the plot of the novel begins to unfold. Besides Tom's debts, Sir Thomas has other financial difficulties related to his estates on Antigua, in the Caribbean. He must go there to set matters right and takes Tom with him, in order to familiarize him with the main source of family wealth as well as to keep him away from the temptations of London. Given the nature of the business and the slow and uncertain nature of crossing the Atlantic under sail, it is expected that the trip may take many months. This leaves the family, as it were, on its own, with no clear center of authority. Edmund, as the oldest male, and Lady Bertram, as the matriarch, both have claims to be in charge, while Mrs. Norris intrudes herself into authority as much as possible by offering "advice." The situation becomes increasingly anarchic. During this time Maria, the elder Bertram daughter, becomes engaged to Mr. Rushworth, a young man who has even greater wealth than Sir Thomas but who is not very bright or personable. According to the conventions of the day, the marriage cannot take place until after Sir Thomas's return.

It is into this listless and purposeless drifting at Mansfield Park that the Crawfords are introduced. The half siblings of Mrs. Grant, Henry and Mary Crawford are rich, spectacularly sophisticated in London manners, and make an overwhelming impression on the Bertram family. They have been raised by their uncle, Admiral Crawford. Austen reveals that Mary in particular had to leave the admiral's house because, on the death of his wife, he had moved his mistress into his own house; Mary's continued residence there would have tarnished her reputation. This episode foreshadows the later revelation of the Crawfords' true moral character. Following her half sister's advice, Miss Crawford immediately fixes on Tom Bertram as a suitable match for herself. Meanwhile, Mary comments of her brother, "The admiral's lessons have quite spoiled him"; accordingly, though he flirts with Julia, his main intention at first is to gain Maria's affections, precisely because she is already engaged, such that the attachment will have a different quality to experience than the building of an ordinary relationship would produce.

From this point the Crawfords and Bertrams spend almost all of their time together. Edmund soon finds himself falling in love with Mary Crawford. Despite herself and her desire for the Bertram title and fortune that are attached to Tom, Mary finds herself returning his affections. Fanny only becomes aware of this through observing Edmund's neglect of her and his attention toward Mary. It is only through examining feelings of jealousy over this developing relationship that Fanny realizes that she is in love with Edmund.

The Bertrams and Crawfords are invited to tour Southerton, the estate of Mr. Rushworth, with an eye toward Henry Crawford advising him about the redesign of the garden, since Henry has just done over his own garden at his estate of Everingham. At this time Mr. Crawford seems to be paying special attention to Julia. While viewing the Rushworth family chapel, Julia calls attention to the fact that Mr. Crawford and Maria happen at one moment to be standing in the precise place and attitude that a bride and groom would assume during their wedding, foreshadowing later events. While touring the garden they break into smaller groups. Maria and Henry Crawford find themselves alone at a locked iron gate beyond which is the most beautiful part of the park. The gate is referred to by the antiquated word "ha-ha." After waiting awhile, Mr. Crawford suggests that he can assist Maria through a gap by the side of the gate: "I think you might with little difficulty pass round the edge of the gate, here, with my assistance; I think it might be done, if you really wished to be more at large, and could allow yourself to think it not prohibited." She responds, "Prohibited! nonsense! I certainly can get out that way, and I will." This is a symbolic enactment of the later scandal concerning them, just as a groom carrying his bride over the threshold is a symbolic enactment of the marriage.

In August, Tom precedes his father (expected by November) back from Antigua. By September, Tom has introduced to Mansfield Park a man named John Yates. Mr. Yates seems to move from one aristocratic household to another with no claim to status except his personability. He has lately been ejected from another house, where he had been organizing an amateur theatrical production of Lovers' Vows, a popular but somewhat morally suspect play. He soon fires the enthusiasm of the Bertrams and Crawfords to stage their own play, and they eventually select the same work. Only Edmund and Fanny are opposed to the idea, though they are both eventually seduced into it. Edmund voices the concern that such a production might be disrespectful of his father's dangers in journeying back from Antigua and that it might compromise Maria's reputation during her engagement, but he eventually agrees to act, worrying that if he does not, Tom will introduce some neighbor into the play and embarrass the family to the wider world; he also worries about Miss Crawford performing a love scene with anyone except himself. During the course of the preparations and rehearsals, Mr. Yates begins a flirtation with Julia, while Henry Crawford slights Julia and continues his seduction of Maria; at one point his attentions to her have to be passed off to Mr. Rushworth (also brought in as an actor) by Mary Crawford as being part of the play. At almost the precise moment when the final dress rehearsal is to begin (with Fanny finally roped in to read the part of the absent Mrs. Grant), Sir Thomas returns home unexpectedly early. His presence brings the whole enterprise of the play to an end, not by any specific orders he gives but as a breaking of a spell that makes it impossible to even continue to think the same way. The Crawfords flee the house. Only Mr. Yates does not at first apprehend what has happened and thinks Sir Thomas's arrival poses only a brief delay.

Volume II

The play is nearly completely forgotten, although Austen makes a point of describing Sir Thomas overseeing the dismantling of the temporary stage that has been erected and personally burning the reading copies of the drama. He is as upset with himself for having lost his temper as he is over the play itself.

Sir Thomas proves most changed with respect to Fanny. He now recognizes her as a young woman and begins to treat her more nearly as he treats his daughters, especially in spite of Mrs. Norris's tyranny over her. As a result, "Fanny knew not how to feel, nor where to look…. He had never been so kind, so very kind to her in his life." Sir Thomas goes so far as to host a ball in her honor, at which she is presented to the local gentry.

Mr. Crawford spends some time away from Mansfield Park, making it clear to Maria that he has no intention of proposing to her. Sir Thomas inquires of his eldest daughter whether she would be rid of the engagement to Mr. Rushworth, whom he begins to see as a worthless fellow, but she refuses, calculating that going ahead with the marriage would be the best way to spite Mr. Crawford, with whom she has indeed fallen in love.

An entirely new theme is introduced when Mr. Crawford announces to his sister, "My plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me." This is a common amusement for him and is no different from his flirtations with the Bertram sisters; he wishes to engage her affections because it seems contrary to her nature to give them to a man such as himself. However, Crawford's constant attentions to Fanny have the opposite effect, and while she only becomes increasingly convinced of his trifling and inconstant character, he falls in love with her. He is deeply affected by seeing Fanny's affection for her brother William and wishes to become the object of such strong and pure feelings himself. He therefore announces again to his sister that he wishes to marry Fanny.

In the meantime, Fanny becomes closer friends with Mary Crawford but still holds herself aloof from what she sees as Mary's self-deceiving character. Fanny's brother William, on leave from his naval duties, comes for a long visit and makes himself popular with the family with exciting tales of his adventures in the war against Napoleon. Mr. Crawford sees the chance of making Fanny indebted to him and intervenes with his uncle the admiral to secure William a promotion to lieutenant, something which at that time depends not on merit but entirely on personal patronage and which even Sir Thomas is uncertain of being able to secure. With this boon in hand, Mr. Crawford proposes to Fanny, in person, through a letter from his sister to Fanny, and by intervening through Sir Thomas in place of Fanny's father. Considering Fanny's background and lack of dowry, the match is incredibly advantageous. Sir Thomas urges it on her as being a match he would have been happy to see for Maria or Julia. Yet Fanny refuses. She recognizes that Mr. Crawford's character is essentially false and at first thinks the matter is even a sort of cruel joke; she persists in her refusal even in the face of accusations of ingratitude from Sir Thomas. She is moreover unable to speak her reasons concerning her suitor's character in her defense. This is at least in part because she can hardly bear to face the true reason for her refusal, that she is in love with Edmund, such that the matter seems completely hopeless to her.

Parallel to these developments, Edmund sets off over the Christmas holiday to undergo his ordination. He expects that once he returns and takes up his living at Thornton Lacey, his first parish, he will propose to Mary Crawford. He vacillates between accepting the evidence that she loves him and will accept and ruing the possibility that she is too wedded to the life of London to become the wife of a country parson. Incidentally, Mr. Crawford offers Edmund the same kind of advice about landscaping his new property as he offered Mr. Rushworth, but Edmund has no interest in such schemes, wishing only to reform the property as appropriate to make it a gentleman's residence.

Volume III

When Fanny communicates her rejection of Mr. Crawford's proposal to Sir Thomas, she is unable to explain her reasons to him, largely because the story of Henry's insincere flirtation with Maria and Julia would tarnish their reputations in their father's eyes. She is only later able to explain these matters to Edmund, who has witnessed them himself. Crawford's attentions to Fanny continue, however, though they serve his own vanity more than any other purposes: "He was in love, very much in love; and it was a love which … made her affection appear of greater consequence, because it was withheld, and determined him to have the glory, as well as the felicity, of forcing her to love him." Mary also tries to persuade Fanny to accept Henry's proposal, but her argument that many women in London society would gladly marry him makes no favorable impression.

The third volume of the novel unfolds with two journeys. While Edmund goes to London for the purpose of proposing to Mary Crawford, Fanny, accompanied by her newly commissioned brother William, visits her parents in Portsmouth for the first time in nine years. This trip is Sir Thomas's idea, as he thinks that seeing the contrast between her background and the future that Mr. Crawford offers will influence her to accept his proposal. The relative poverty of the Price household does not please Fanny, but the discovery that most upsets her is that the life of the house is not ordered in the same way as that of Mansfield Park. Fanny finds that of her six other surviving siblings, only her sister Susan has achieved the same self-imposed order as has her brother William. While Fanny is there, Mr. Crawford pays a visit to the Price household, endearing himself to her immediate family and increasing the pressure on her to accept him.

The conclusion of the book becomes progressively more summary in style, beginning with a series of letters, recalling the epistolary novel, told completely in a series of letters, which had been fashionable in Austen's youth, and finally devolving to a summary of events more like the telling of a fairy tale with morals than the main narrative of the novel. While still in Portsmouth, Fanny receives a letter from Lady Norris indicating that Tom became gravely ill after a fall during a drunken carousal. He was to be brought home to Mansfield, where he would lay bedridden and near death for many weeks before ultimately showing improvement. A still more disturbing development is announced to Fanny by, of all people, her father, who has read in the newspaper that Maria Rushworth has abandoned her husband and run off with Henry Crawford, creating a public scandal. Shortly thereafter, Edmund writes to tell Fanny that Julia has eloped with Mr. Yates, marrying him without Sir Thomas's consent or even knowledge. In the face of this series of disasters, Edmund comes to bring Fanny, along with her sister Susan, back to Mansfield in order to lend Lady Bertram moral support. Mary Crawford has also sent Fanny a letter, in which she lamented not the recent adulterous actions of her brother and Fanny's cousin but the fact that they became public knowledge; Mary also speculated about how much more worthy an heir Mansfield would pass to if Tom died. She has expressed some similar sentiments to Edmund, and he and Fanny are revolted at what they consider her complete lack of moral understanding. This naturally leads to the end of any possibility of marriage between Edmund and Mary.

In the last chapter of the novel, the plot essentially ended, the narrative voice becomes much more that of a storyteller, with references to Fanny as "my Fanny" and to itself in the first person. The narrator proceeds to describe the later lives of the main characters. Tom recovers and, reflecting on his brush with death, reforms his character. Sir Thomas changes, too, on the basis of his reflection over the disobedience of his daughters. He blames his own excessive sternness, which prevented them from opening their true hearts to him, forcing them to build facades pleasant to their aunt's and mother's indulgence while developing in secret and corrupt ways inside. He finds, however, that he can begin again, in a more kindly way, to construct a surrogate family: "Fanny was indeed the daughter that he wanted." Susan Price, too, is virtually adopted as a second daughter. Maria has hoped to marry Henry Crawford, for she has acted partly out of love for him, but they have both acted out of a desire to conquer the other, an even more exaggerated feeling on Crawford's part than his desire to conquer Fanny against her better judgment, as in Maria's case he has had to overcome hatred and bitterness as well. This is no basis for a relationship, and he ultimately expels Maria. She is sent to live in seclusion, as provided for by Sir Thomas and with Mrs. Norris as her companion. Fanny and Edmund live happily ever after. The narrator states, "I only intreat every body to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire." Dr. Grant obligingly dies at about the time the new couple wish to start a family and provides Edmund with the larger income Sir Thomas has always wished for him. The love that unites them is the true force that has animated Mansfield Park all along, and they become, if not the heirs of the property, the heirs of the spirit of the place.

CHARACTERS

Edmund Bertram

The younger son of Thomas Bertram, Edmund is about six years older than Fanny. He is intended for the ministry, not for financial reasons, as was the case with so many younger sons of aristocrats, but out of true religious and moral conviction, as he explains to Miss Crawford when she belittles the importance of the clergy:

A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the tone in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing, which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally—which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence.

Edmund is the only member of Fanny's newfound relations to directly engage her and to make any contact with her interior self. He is responsible to a large degree not only for her education, through directing her reading, but also for building her character through a genuine concern for her feelings and by suggesting social roles that she might fulfill beyond her own ideas. With every event in her life that Fanny believes to be a calamity, Edmund reinterprets it for her as a new stage in her maturation and development as a person. Fanny responds by forming a deep attachment to Edmund: "She loved him better than any body in the world except William; her heart was divided between the two." Only after a long courtship between Edmund and Mary Crawford, ended when she reveals her true character in connection with Maria's adultery and Tom's illness, do Edmund and Fanny realize that they have grown to love each other and marry.

Julia Bertram

Julia is the younger daughter of Sir Thomas. She was held by her parents and especially by Mrs. Norris as less beautiful than her older sister Maria, and so she was also less flattered and less spoiled. Precisely because she thinks of herself as inferior to her sister, she is also the less temperamental and vain. Hence her elopement with Mr. Yates is also a lesser folly than her sister's. She shares Maria's essential moral hollowness, however, and hence her marriage, too, is primarily a misguided effort to escape the authority of her father and to simultaneously spite and imitate her sister's elopement.

Maria Bertram

Austen stresses repeatedly that while Maria and her sister, Julia, give an outward appearance of morality and genteel manners, this facade covers a hollow core. A typical example occurs when their father leaves for Antigua:

The Miss Bertrams were much to be pitied on the occasion; not for their sorrow, but for their want of it. Their father was no object of love to them, he had never seemed the friend of their pleasures, and his absence was unhappily most welcome. They were relieved by it from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach.

Because Fanny lacks their formal education, Maria and Julia consider her to be less intelligent and, also because she lacks their birth, in general less worthy than themselves. Rather than embracing the moral authority of her father as head of the family, Maria attaches herself to Rushworth to escape it and then just as carelessly abandons Rushworth for Henry Crawford, destroying herself as far as gentry society is concerned.

Lady Maria Bertram

Lady Bertram is Fanny's aunt and the wife of Sir Thomas. She is generally too incompetent to run her own household and leaves much of that work to her sister Mrs. Norris. She is also incapable of perceiving the needs and feelings of those around her. For instance, she has no concern for the arduous and dangerous journey to Antigua made by her husband and son because she is "one of those persons who think nothing can be dangerous or difficult, or fatiguing to any body but themselves." She constantly distracts herself from more important matters by sewing and by tending her pug lapdog. Lady Bertram considers that she has a duty to her family to help Fanny, rather than any duty to Fanny as a person, and indeed she never comes to know Fanny. She judges her niece to be precisely equivalent to the superficial lack of sophistication that characterized her when she came to Mansfield Park, and therefore to be stupid and worthless in herself.

Sir Thomas Bertram

Considering her uncle's importance in Fanny's moral universe, Sir Thomas, the owner of Mansfield Park, plays a surprisingly small part in the novel. His importance comes from his authority, which morally orders Mansfield Park. It is this order, rather than the estate itself, of which Fanny and Edmund become the true heirs.

Tom Bertram

Tom is the elder son of Sir Thomas. As such, the bulk of his father's fortune would naturally be settled upon him. However, his means of approaching life is quite fantastic and quite out of line with his father's and with his own presumptive responsibilities. When sent to live in London in order to make social connections with other members of the gentry and nobility that would later in life sustain and advance the Bertram family, he accrues huge gambling debts that require Sir Thomas to sell the rights to the parsonage of Mansfield Park to Dr. Grant, rather than settle the income on his younger son, Edmund, as he had hoped. Like his sisters, Tom has failed to develop a moral foundation based on introspection. Tom's initial response to Fanny is to play with her in a good-natured and superficial way, as he would any child, but he never approaches her as a person. For these reasons, though he appears to survive his crisis, he surrenders the moral inheritance of Mansfield Park to Edmund and Fanny.

Henry Crawford

Henry is the half brother of Mrs. Grant and brother of Mary Crawford. He has a large fortune and owns the estate of Everingham in Norfolk. His flirtation with the Bertram sisters is something he undertakes entirely for his own amusement and for no serious purpose. He expresses the opinion that marriage is generally a sort of playacting in which both parties deceive the other. Praised by Fanny, despite herself, as the best actor in the play prepared at Mansfield Park, Henry's entire persona is affected. Because of his inherently false character, Fanny rejects his proposal despite its fantastic advantage to herself in conventional material terms and the incredible pressure brought to bear on her, even by Sir Thomas, to accept. Perhaps Henry's obsession with Fanny comes near to bringing out real feeling in him, but even there he is more nearly playing the part of a man in love than actually in love with her. Mr. Crawford describes himself as a devourer of his own pleasure, and indeed it seems that everything he does, including his proposal to Fanny and his shaming of Maria, is done to find pleasure, yet he is never able to discover real enjoyment or satisfaction.

Mary Crawford

Mary Crawford is introduced to the Bertrams as the half sister of Mrs. Grant. She is pretty but darkly complected like Fanny and therefore does not excite Maria and Julia's envy. Mary is presented as the opposite of Fanny. She may seem more attractive superficially, but she is lacking in her interior condition. Mary has a good character by disposition, but she is ruled by her feelings rather than ruling them. She takes an interest in the people around her and the activities they engage in, and is therefore thought to be charming, but she does not understand either her own motives or those of others and lacks Fanny's deeper understanding. At the same time, "She had none of Fanny's delicacy of taste, of mind, of feeling; she saw nature, inanimate nature, with little observation; her attention was all for men and women, her talents for the light and lively." Mary has the sense to eventually prefer Edmund to Tom and comes close to marriage with him, but she reveals her lack of a moral center by openly wishing for Tom's death and treating the adultery committed by her brother and Maria Rushworth pragmatically. Mary is not hypocritical; she is insincere. She plays at being virtuous and sensitive, because she thinks she ought to be, but she is not. She has "a mind led astray and bewildered, and without any suspicion of being so; darkened, yet fancying itself light."

Dr. Grant

On the death of Mr. Norris, the parsonage of Mansfield Park had been intended as a gift from Sir Thomas to his son Edmund. Circumstance instead forces Sir Thomas to sell it to Dr. Grant. He has the habit of annoying Mrs. Norris by telling her the truth.

Mrs. Grant

The wife of Dr. Grant, she is a half sister to the Crawfords, whom she invites to the Mansfield Park parsonage in order to have companions.

Mrs. Norris

Mrs. Norris is Fanny's aunt who brings about Fanny's introduction to Mansfield Park. Although Fanny's mother appeals to her, and she persuades the Bertrams to act as Fanny's patron, Mrs. Norris twice surprises her sister Lady Bertram by demurring to have Fanny live with her as her companion, instead prevailing on the Bertrams to put Fanny up in Mansfield Park when she first arrives and again after her husband, Mr. Norris, dies. This is typical of her personality, in that she wishes to control circumstances around her without taking any responsibility. Hers is the condition generally known as being a busybody and is the source of much of the humor in Austen's narrative. She constantly describes herself as helpless, desperate, and poor (an excuse for her miserliness), yet she is none of these things. However, her anxieties over these issues become manifest in her attempts to control Fanny and actively prevent her from gaining any equality with her Bertram cousins, which Mrs. Norris would consider a scandal. The narrative voice of the novel says plainly that Mrs. Norris hates Fanny and takes pleasure in oppressing her. Advising Fanny about how to conduct herself in public, she instructs, "Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last."

Fanny Price

John Lucas, in his edition of Mansfield Park, suggests that the name Fanny Price may derive from a character of the same name who resists seduction out of Christian scruple in the work of Austen's favorite poet, George Crabbe. If so, Austen used her inspiration as the basis for a far more subtle and complex heroine. Fanny is brought from her own family to Mansfield Park, the house of her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram, and while inevitably elevated by this connection, she also undoubtedly is placed in a very precarious position, as tormented by the aunt who brought about her introduction there (Mrs. Norris) and treated more like a servant than a family member. By the end of the novel she has become the spiritual heir of the house, as wed to her cousin Edmund, triumphing over an oppressive foster family in a manner reminiscent of Cinderella.

The strength of Fanny's character is that she consistently resists social pressure to act against her conscience, whereas her social position ought to make her defer to the wishes of others. While she yields to each debasing command from Mrs. Norris within the household sphere, she refuses to corrupt herself by acting in the play to be produced within the household during Sir Thomas's absence in Antigua, and she refuses also the proposal of Henry Crawford because she recognizes the essential characteristic of both the play and the proposal to be insincerity. She is as unconcerned with the social pressure brought to bear on her as she is with the social rewards that would accrue to her if she acquiesced.

In fact, Fanny delights in the natural over the social. While she is withdrawn and therefore demure to the point of seeming a cipher to most of those around her, she extols the natural, such as the beauty of the night sky: "Here's harmony!… Here's repose! Here's what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe. Here's what may tranquillize every care, and lift the heart to rapture!" This nearly religious ecstasy, derived from participation in nature and the immutable rather than from the shifting patterns of human society, she has learned from her cousin Edmund, who is her tutor and by the end of the novel becomes her husband.

Mr. Price

Fanny's father, a lieutenant in the marines, brought his wife to a lower level of social existence than that of her sisters, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. He possesses very common manners and is inattentive to the order of his own house.

Mrs. Price

Fanny's mother is the sister of Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. She ruined herself through marrying beneath her station for love and lives a degraded life as a consequence.

Susan Price

Susan is the younger sister to whom Fanny becomes close during her exile in Portsmouth. At the end of the novel she, too, comes to live in Mansfield Park, though with her elder sister as protector, under considerably more favorable conditions than Fanny herself experienced.

William Price

William Price is Fanny's older brother. Before she left for Mansfield Park he fulfilled the role of her protector and hero, a role Edmund Bertram gradually takes over. Owing to his father's slight influence as a marine officer, William goes to sea as a midshipman. He is later promoted due to Mr. Crawford's influence with his uncle, an admiral.

Mr. Rushworth

One of the wealthiest members of the gentry in the vicinity of Mansfield Park, Mr. Rushworth becomes engaged and then married to Maria Bertram. Edmund observes of him, "If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow." He is obsessed with redesigning the gardens on his estate, a symbol of his superficial character.

Mrs. Rushworth

Mr. Rushworth's widowed mother. Her acquaintance with Mrs. Norris helps to forge the connection between her son and Maria Bertram.

Mr. John Yates

Mr. Yates is a companion of Tom Bertram in his low pursuits. He seems to exist on the fringe of gentry society, moving about the country as a guest in one country house after another. He introduces the idea of performing a play at Mansfield Park. He begins a flirtation with Julia Bertram, seemingly out of idleness more than warm affection. He eventually marries her without Sir Thomas's permission.

THEMES

Sensibility

Mansfield Park, like all of Austen's novels, is concerned with the growth of the inner life, the sensibility, as Austen would say, of its main character. In this novel, the importance of Fanny Price's spiritual growth to the workings of the plot is obvious. When she first arrives at Mansfield Park, Fanny feels completely isolated, allowing herself to be put off by the superficiality of her cousins and the apparent sternness of her uncle, Sir Thomas. However, Edmund begins her education, in formal learning as well as in feeling, by presenting himself as an example. Through connecting with him, she begins to see the true spirit of Mansfield Park, as expressed in the virtue of Edmund and his father, and eventually becomes the partner and heir of that virtue.

TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Research the history of the movement for the abolition of slavery in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. What organizations and newspapers were created to further this cause? What were their goals? What were their various strategies for achieving change? How did slave owners support or block this movement? Write a paper detailing your findings, including a discussion of how the brief reference to slavery in Mansfield Park stands in relation to this movement and to what degree the Austen family participated in it.
  • The gardens of English country houses play an important role, both literal and symbolic, in Mansfield Park. Notably, Austen's age was the era in which landscape gardening achieved its greatest importance. Research the styles of garden design in the early nineteenth century and draw a plan of your own design for the garden of a great house.
  • Watch the film version of Mansfield Park, directed by Patricia Rozema. How faithful is this depiction to the book? Would Austen have approved of this depiction? After critically considering the film, write your own screenplay for a short film featuring Jane Austen. What portion of her life would you concentrate on and why?
  • Research the nature of love and marriage in England in Austen's era. Give an oral presentation in which you discuss how these institutions evolved to become what they were then within the various social strata and how they evolved to become what they are today, in England and in America.

Marriage

In the very beginning of Mansfield Park, Austen introduces many of the themes of the novel by discussing the marriages achieved by Fanny's mother and aunts. She discusses in detail the economic realities of each match and their social consequences. Maria Ward's marriage to the baronet Sir Thomas is so good that her own uncle reckons it should have gone to a girl with three thousand pounds more inheritance than she has. Fanny's mother, to the contrary, marries beneath her station and so is ostracized. There is no question of any of the women making their own way or finding any sort of employment, which would have been nearly impossible in the 1780s (and might have entailed complete isolation from decent society, as Mary Wollstonecraft, who became a successful writer, discovered; Austen at first tried to keep her own identity as a writer secret). Rather, all the women must compete with other women based on their inheritance and their captivating qualities of beauty to obtain one of the limited number of wealthy husbands available.

Austen makes these circumstances clear in many instances, such as in the assessment of Mrs. Grant's marriage by Fanny's aunts. For Mrs. Norris's part, "Enquire where she would, she could not find out that Mrs. Grant had ever had more than five thousand pounds." Lady Bertram, in turn, "felt all the injuries of beauty in Mrs. Grant's being so well settled in life without being handsome, and expressed her astonishment on that almost as often, though not so diffusely, as Mrs. Norris discussed the other." Gentry women were treated as children until they were formally presented at a ball and then were said to be "out," in the sense of publically seeking a husband, and thereafter were treated as adults. The undoubted social reality of this competition, given women's complete legal dependence on men, shaped Austen's own life (marked by her so-called failure in this competition) and formed the basis not only of this novel but indeed of all her works. It is not hard to imagine that the name of the novel and of the estate where it takes place, Mansfield, refers to this marital competition by wordplay. The field is a place of labor and also a place of competition, as in a tournament or in war, and it is there that women must compete for men.

The City and the Country

Aristocratic British families, including the gentry, generally had their main residence on their country estate, in the district where the lands that were their principal source of wealth were held. The social interactions of country life occurred at the local level, with the families of the same class in a given district visiting each other and joining in balls and other events in the area. Many families also maintained a presence in the city of London through owning a second residence there or at least making visits. There, a more cosmopolitan society grew up on the fringes of the royal court, allowing the meeting of aristocrats from the entire country on the basis of social equality. Life in London was generally more sophisticated than country life inasmuch as it featured attendance at dramatic and musical performances and more immediate access to news and (for the first time in Austen's period) newspapers, as well as to artistic and intellectual currents that were favored by like-minded people coming together in ways that were impossible in small towns and isolated estates. London also offered a certain degree of anonymity, or at least the illusion of anonymity, which encouraged aristocrats to engage in activities looked down on as vices, such as gambling.

While human life may in some sense be elevated through the social and intellectual possibilities of the city, it is at the same time degraded by a greater lack of connection that reduces human relationships. Edmund Bertram observes that London, as compared to the country, is prone to vice and is lacking representatives of the best moral character, especially in the relative isolation of priests from parishioners. In turn, "Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London was very much at war with all respectable attachments." Although Mansfield Park takes place entirely in the country, it is driven by interaction with the city. All of Tom's difficulties come about from his surrender to the worst impulses of city life, while the Crawfords represent the city invading the country life of Mansfield Park. Many facets of city life in London were also present in certain provincial centers favored by the aristocratic classes for recreation, such as Derby (with its Epsom Derby thoroughbred horse race) and Bath (with its spa), where Austen lived between 1800 and 1806.

STYLE

Irony

Irony is a technique by which an author says one thing and means another, or means a great deal more than is actually stated. This creates a moral distance between the author and the events she describes and often challenges the reader to think in a new or unconventional way in order to appreciate the true, ironic meaning of a text, not without a certain humor. Irony is one of Austen's most characteristic devices. In Mansfield Park irony is used to both great and small effect. Mrs. Grant, for instance, constantly states her own wishes and aversions in terms of others' advantages rather than her own, attempting to manipulate everyone around her (and until the end of the novel largely succeeding) in this passive-aggressive way.

Comedy

Today, variegated genres tend to correspond to niche markets, but in the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle's conception there were only two genres: tragedy, which concerned the inevitable fall of great people, and comedy, which included everything else. In that sense, Mansfield Park, like all Austen's works, is a comedy. Although it contains much humor, it never descends into farce or other low genres, instead bearing a serious moral message in Fanny's inner growth and search for happiness. It is, moreover, a comedy of manners in that it analyzes through humor as much as philosophical discourse the rightness and motives of its characters' actions and, through them, the manners (or way of life) typical of the era.

Play within a Play

A well-known motif (a form or idea that occurs with some frequency) of literature entails the characters of a novel or play themselves becoming involved in the production of a play; the best-known such instance in English literature occurs in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. While the purpose of such a device may vary, in Mansfield Park it serves to help define character and reproduce the plot in miniature. The main characters of the novel undertake to act in the play, each one taking a role that reflects their own personality and function within the plot of the novel. In other words, Austen uses the production of the play to call attention to the fact that the situations and characters of her novel are to some degree based on those in the play produced, Lovers' Vows. This play, adapted by Elizabeth Inchbald from a text by the German playwright August von Kotzebue, was among the most popular plays at the time of Austen's writing. The plot of the play relates to many episodes of the novel, including the romance between Edmund and Mary Crawford, Fanny's choice of suitor, and Maria's elopement.

A more important question about the play is the reaction to it by the characters. Sir Thomas and his moral agent Edmund find its production highly objectionable, as does Fanny. Sir Thomas, once he learns of the performance upon his return from Antigua, describes it as "unsafe amusement" and "saw all the impropriety of such a scheme among such a party, and at such a time, as strongly as his son had ever supposed." Sir Thomas's condemnation extends to his burning all the copies of the play in the house, an act that might not have seemed as shocking and unacceptable in Austen's time as it does now, since her readers would have associated it only with churches' burning of heretical and pagan writings during the Middle Ages. While objections are made about the performance being disrespectful of the danger of Sir Thomas's journey, about the general impropriety of acting, and about some morally salacious content in this particular play, the play hangs over the novel as an oppressive anxiety without ever being fully revealed or explored. That Austen should employ an amateur theatrical to represent grave moral failure is all the more exceptional inasmuch as the Austen household and Jane herself were enthusiastic about acting out plays and did so frequently.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The Gentry

Except for the Price family, all of Austen's characters belong to the gentry, or middle class in the original sense of the term. The gentry were separate from the nobility in lacking titles (with the exception of baronet, which Sir Thomas possesses) and direct connection with the royal court, and from the peasantry in possessing lands sufficient to maintain an aristocratic standard of living from rents paid by tenant farmers without having to work themselves. While clergy were not technically gentry, since they did not personally own the land they profited from, they were effectively of the same class. The aim of marriage within this class was to secure the woman in question a continuing position among the gentry. Fanny's mother fell out of the gentry by making a poor marriage, while Fanny re-enters it through her marriage to Edmund. After the death of Austen's father and the business failure of her brothers, the Austen family was constantly in danger of falling out of this class. As Miss Crawford points out to Edmund, only a few professions were socially acceptable within the gentry class, such as practicing law or entering politics. This is one of the reasons why the new fortunes being made through the Industrial Revolution went to entrepreneurs from outside the gentry class, and it is also a reason why Austen shows no consciousness of the changing nature of English society being brought about by industrialization.

COMPARE & CONTRAST

  • 1817: Writing is not an entirely respectable pursuit for women. In some cases a woman's reputation can be tarnished by her becoming an author. Successful women writers are largely limited to genres such as gothic romance that are considered subliterary and are aimed principally at women readers.

    Today: Women are as free to pursue a literary career as men, writing in any genre and with the same critical and popular acceptance. Nonetheless, for many, the English-language literary canon remains weighted by the historically disproportionate production of works by men.

  • 1817: Slavery and slave plantations form a vital part of the economy of the British Empire, although the early stages of industrialization are beginning to undermine its economic utility.

    Today: Slavery has long since been abolished as morally unacceptable and economically unviable in Great Britain and the industrialized world, but hundreds of millions of people in the developing and developed worlds alike continue to live in social and economic statuses reminiscent of slavery.

  • 1817: British women are completely excluded from the system of higher education and the professions to which it leads.

    Today: Women make up a majority of college students and are free to pursue any career they choose.

  • 1817: Social class is rigidly defined. Most wealth exists in the form of land, which is transferred by inheritance, such that little social mobility is possible. Middle- and upper-class families depend upon large staffs of servants.

    Today: The industrial and postindustrial economy has produced manifold possibilities for social mobility and the creation of new wealth. Domestic service has almost vanished, except in the homes of the very wealthy, largely being replaced by entrepreneurial businesses such as day-care centers and fast-food restaurants.

  • 1817: Advancement in careers, especially military careers, depends openly and almost exclusively on family and social connections rather than on talent.

    Today: While connections still undoubtedly play a role in career advancement, careers are officially open to all with the appropriate knowledge and skill, and acts of preferment or discrimination are subject to legal sanctions.

Slavery

In Mansfield Park the bulk of Sir Thomas's income derives from his estates on the island of Antigua, in the Caribbean. There can be no doubt that these are sugar plantations worked by slave labor. The postcolonialist theorist Edward Said, in his Culture and Imperialism, and his followers (notably Patricia Rozema in her 1999 film adaptation) have characterized Austen as part of the morally corrupt system of slavery insofar as she failed to robustly criticize the institution from a modern moral viewpoint. This line of criticism obviously involves the difficulty of holding past ages to account against later ethical structures that they could hardly have anticipated. In any case, Austen does not seem to be very apt material for such criticism since, from the little information that can be gleaned from family correspondence, the Austens, Jane included, did favor, even if not vociferously, the growing political movement for the abolition of slavery. The single mention of slavery made by Austen in all of her published works, in this conversation between Fanny and Edmund, in any case suggests a very different conclusion from Said's:

"Did not you hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?"

"I did—and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther."

"And I longed to do it—but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like—I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by shewing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel."

The fact that Sir Thomas wishes that Fanny would inquire further hints that he has something important to say on the subject, which, given the historical context, would most likely have involved his expressing moral questions about the very institution on which his family depends, a consideration that he might feel it important for his wife and children to be aware of. The resulting silence from the family, however, is not the result of Austen and English society as a whole being unwilling to reflect on the moral place of slavery (as the strength and eventual triumph of the abolitionist movement proves) but rather is an indictment of the moral emptiness of the Bertram family apart from Sir Thomas and Edmund.

CRITICAL OVERVIEW

Among the first readers of Mansfield Park was Austen's favorite niece, Fanny Knight. Her reaction is recorded in Austen's catalog of reaction to her novel, which she collected in 1814, a compilation that is widely reprinted and included in large part in Sandie Byrne's critical anthology Jane Austen: Mansfield Park. Fanny tried to convince Jane to change the ending so that rather than tempt Maria Rushworth to abandon her husband, Henry Crawford would succeed in marrying Fanny and show himself a redeemed character, a scenario that would be suggested by many later readers as more satisfactory.

Walter Scott, the most popular novelist of Austen's era, though a favorable reviewer of her earlier books, was silent about Mansfield Park except in letters (reprinted in Byrne) in which he was nevertheless enthusiastic. Austen herself excerpted mentions of the novel from her own correspondents. They had little but praise for it, though it is often unfavorably compared to Pride and Prejudice. As Byrne's critical collection shows, after Austen's death, her reputation as well as that of Mansfield Park continued to grow. After 1870 several of Austen's relatives published memoirs of her as well as her letters, and these were well received, cementing Austen's reputation as an important author. They tended, however, to present her as a rather saintly figure and as a gifted amateur, thereby tailoring her image to the Victorian taste that prevailed at the time.

The first half of the twentieth century, Byrne's anthology demonstrates, saw the development of Janeites—critics and, to a much larger degree, readers who privileged Austen as a literary figure on the level of Shakespeare who could do no wrong. For them, Mansfield Park is the worst of Austen's novels since it is the most different from the others and its heroine is the least obviously charming. At the same time, other critics developed a reading of the novel as Austen's most psychologically complex work and a breakthrough in the sense of being among the first modern novels. Lionel Trilling, with his 1955 volume The Opposing Self, advanced the study of Mansfield Park, characterizing it as perhaps the greatest but at the same time the most difficult of Austen's novels. He sowed the seeds of modern interpretations of the book, which have been offered from viewpoints ranging from feminist to psychological to sociological. Trilling suggests that the key to the reactions of the characters to the play within the novel is to be found in Plato's theory of mimesis, which holds that the imitation of life involved in dramatic art is inherently corrupting:

What is decisive is a traditional, almost primitive, feeling about dramatic impersonation. We know of this, of course, from Plato, and it is one of the points on which almost everyone feels superior to Plato, but it may have more basis in actuality than we commonly allow. It is the fear that the impersonation of a bad or inferior character will have a harmful effect upon the impersonator, that, indeed, the impersonation of any other self will diminish the integrity of the real self.

Edmund and Fanny see the moral error in the play but are nevertheless seduced into participation. While Sir Thomas, the stern judge, rejects the play out of hand, the rest are happy to be led further astray.

More recently, historicist critics such as Roger Sales, in his Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England (1994), have concentrated on unraveling Austen's attitudes toward contemporary society and politics, factors that must have been self-evident to her first readers; for instance, it does not take much imagination to see Tom Bertram as a satire of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV of England). Postmodern critics have moved in the direction of reading their own criticism of traditional Western culture into Austen's work. Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, argues that Austen's main theme is imperialism and the slave economy it fostered; every element of the story is determined by or symbolic of this scarcely mentioned reality. Said notes, "To earn the right to Mansfield Park [Fanny] must first leave home as a kind of indentured servant or, to put the case in extreme terms, as a kind of transported commodity … but then [she has] the promise of future wealth." Similarly, Maaja A. Stewart, in Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions: Jane Austen's Novels in Eighteenth-Century Contexts (1993) deconstructs the hidden patriarchal narratives (themes of the sexist oppression of women) of Austen's novel and era.

CRITICISM

Bradley A. Skeen

Skeen is a classics professor. In this essay, he considers the mythic and psychological sources of Mansfield Park.

Many critics of Mansfield Park have made a point of not likening the novel to the fairy tale of Cinderella, mentioning the possibility but shying away from what might seem a trivializing comparison. However, since fairy tales and myths embody the oldest layers of cultural tradition and sometimes reveal profound psychological truths, a reading of Austen's novel in relation to Cinderella might lay bare some of the work's most important themes and explain its dramatic power rather than belittle it. Certainly the novel's similarity to the basic structure of the Cinderella story is clear enough. Fanny Price is part of the Bertram family, yet not part of it; while she is presented as a cousin, her odd place in relation to the family is similar to the step-relationship of the fairy tale. The father, Sir Thomas, while not dead, is absent for much of the novel in Antigua; more importantly, he remains disengaged from Fanny's well-being until the last part of the novel, when he takes proper notice of her and in fact arranges her coming-out at a ball, filling in some sense the role of the fairy godmother. Maria and Julia Bertram can be compared to the stepsisters, while Mrs. Norris plays the role of the wicked stepmother. This passage from Charles Perrault's version of the fairy tale (with which Austen was probably familiar) highlights many of the similarities with Austen's novel:

[The stepmother] could not endure the girl's good qualities, which by contrast rendered her own daughters the more odious. She put her to drudge at the meanest household work, and thus she and her precious darlings not only wreaked their spite but saved money to buy themselves dresses and finery…. [Cinderella] herself slept at the top of the house in a garret, upon a wretched straw mattress, while her sisters had apartments of their own with inlaid floors, beds carved and gilded in the latest fashion, and mirrors in which they could see themselves from head to foot.

These elements are all reflected in Fanny's situation. Mrs. Norris treats her more like a servant than a relative, keeps her living in an unheated upstairs room, and rules Sir Thomas's opinion of his niece, until he comes, like the fairy godmother, to take an interest in her and liberate her from Mrs. Norris's tyranny, ensuring that she is provided with wood for her stove, bringing her into society, and finally agreeing to her marriage.

Henry Crawford has some aspects of the prince, in that he courts all three "sisters" but falls in love with Fanny when he finally sees her true self, just as the prince falls in love with Cinderella when he sees her at the ball as she truly ought to be, not in the condition to which her circumstances have reduced her. In Austen's novel, when Fanny goes into hiding in Portsmouth, Mr. Crawford seeks her out and proposes to her—but in a reversal of the fairy tale, Fanny rejects her suitor. Rather, Fanny accepts her true beloved, Edmund, who is a prince in another form, a son, if not the heir, of Mansfield Park. It is this kingdom that they inherit, not in the legal sense, as will Tom, but in the more meaningful moral and spiritual senses. Certainly they live happily ever after: "With so much true merit and true love, and no want of fortune or friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be."

WHAT DO I READ NEXT?

  • Where Mansfield Park, published in 1814, is the first of Austen's books begun in her mature period, Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, is the last of her works developed from her juvenile writing. Pride and Prejudice is the most acceptable of Austen's works to popular taste, while Mansfield Park is the least.
  • Austen's Selected Letters, published most recently in 2004 (but also available in many earlier editions), offers insight into Austen's real life and how it informed her writing.
  • Penny Gay's Jane Austen and the Theatre (2002) surveys the mention and use of theatrical material in Austen's novels and the role of the theater in her life as well.
  • Kirstin Olsen's All Things Austen: An Encyclopedia of Austen's World (2005; 2 vols.) offers explanations of the unfamiliar details of everyday life in Austen's novels. Aspects covered range from the different kinds of hunting engaged in by the characters to the different styles in which Mary Crawford and Fanny would have likely dressed, from how vital clues to the characters of Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram reflect their attending university at Cambridge and Oxford, respectively, to what music Mary Crawford would likely have played on her harp.
  • George Crabbe, though nearly forgotten today, was Jane Austen's favorite poet. He is quoted in Mansfield Park and even supplied the name Fanny Price. His works are archived on the Web at Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/c#a1725).
  • The popular play Lovers' Vows (1798), an adaptation of an August von Kotzebue play by Elizabeth Inchbald, is of considerable dramatic and symbolic importance in Mansfield Park. The text of the play has been archived on the Internet (http://klh64.tripod.com/vows/index.html).

Avrom Fleishman, in A Reading of Mansfield Park, suggests that the comparison with Cinderella is both valid and useful. He goes further by helping to explain the novel in terms of Sigmund Freud's analysis of the mythology related to Cinderella in his essay "The Theme of the Three Caskets." Freud, the noted Austrian psychologist and founder of psychoanalysis, notices that a motif has appeared over and over in myth and literature in which a suitor must choose between three sisters. He chooses the least likely, the third or youngest, and, having chosen wisely, is amply rewarded. This occurs in Cinderella as well as in Greek myth, where Prince Paris of Troy chooses Aphrodite as the fairest goddess and is rewarded with marriage to Helen. The scenario occurs twice in Shakespeare, in slightly altered forms. King Lear actually fails to choose his youngest daughter, Cordelia (not as his wife but as his heir), and his life ends in tragedy after the death of all three daughters. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia's suitors must pass a test, selecting one of three caskets, the correct one being not of gold or silver but of lead. Freud finds that a common attribute in the third sister is a refusal to speak on her own behalf, in some fairy-tale versions a literal dumbness, just as Cinderella never says anything to the prince to reveal her true identity when she could. Fanny likewise is noted for her refusal to speak, most obviously in her saying nothing to Edmund about her feelings for him, and also, just as importantly, for her speaking refusal in answer to Mr. Crawford's proposal. When the real "prince," Edmund, chooses Fanny, he indeed receives every reward he could have hoped for. Sir Thomas also finally chooses Fanny, preferring her to his own daughters.

Freud finds the symbolic meaning of this dumbness to be death, with speaking being taken as the characteristic activity of life. This is made explicit in the case of Lear, who ends the play carrying the dead Cordelia in his arms. The symbolic value of lead, the correct choice among the three caskets, is also death, because of its cold and malleable character. The judgment of Paris, on the other hand, yields the opposite choice: Aphrodite, the very goddess of life. But there is nothing unusual in something dreadful, such as death, being represented by its opposite. This seeming paradox reveals the fundamental truth that life and death are inextricably linked. While Aphrodite, the goddess of love, might seem completely the opposite of death, her prototypes in the Near East, such as Astarte and Ishtar, combine her qualities with presiding over killing in warfare and with a myth of descent and return from the abode of the dead in the underworld. Austen surely knew of such a notion from an echo of it in the biblical Song of Solomon: "For love is as strong as death" (8:6). After writing his essay on the three caskets in 1913, Freud saw increasingly clearly that human psychology is dominated by two great drives instilled by evolution, one for life, through procreation, and one for death, in the use of violence for hunting and for gaining power within human society. (The longing for isolation and rest is also significant.) These opposing drives are unified precisely in the Cinderella story, in which the prince chooses to marry death: the creation and the destruction of life become one. Inasmuch as Fanny, too, represents death, Fleischman concludes that it is precisely this deathly quality of hers that makes her so simultaneously attractive and repellent to readers and critics.

The happy world of Mansfield Park that Fanny and Edmund enter into and become the heirs of is the world of the dead. For Austen this can only be the Christian heaven, the paradise that is perfect, orderly, beautiful, and just—everything that death is not as far as human senses can discern (another representation by opposites). The contrast between the home of Fanny's parents in South Hampton and Mansfield Park, where she will live happily with Edmund, is the contrast in the Platonic and then the Christian view between life on earth, which is the true death, and the spiritual rebirth experienced in heaven. The disorder and squalor there, the meaninglessness of existence there, all mark the Price home as a plane of existence different from Mansfield Park:

Such was the home which was to put Mansfield out of her head, and teach her to think of her cousin Edmund with moderated feelings. On the contrary, she could think of nothing but Mansfield, its beloved inmates, its happy ways. Every thing where she now was was in full contrast to it. The elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony—and perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield, were brought to her remembrance every hour of the day, by the prevalence of everything opposite to them here.

Like any good Christian, Fanny receives her reward in heaven. This progress towards an ideal death helps to reveal more about the novel's main themes.

Just after receiving the first copies of Pride and Prejudice, Austen wrote of plans for Mansfield Park to her sister Cassandra, as quoted in Deirdre Le Faye's Jane Austen: A Family Record: "Now I will try to write of something else; - it shall be a complete change of subject - Ordination" (January 29, 1813). While this might be taken to refer to Edmund's ordination as a priest, that is certainly not the main subject of the novel. In fact, as the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary shows, ordination was a much more common word in Austen's time than it is now, and its general meaning of imposing order (as in coordination) was still in common usage. The ordination that Austen meant was the imposing of order on Mansfield Park, which moves from a disordered to a more ordered state through the course of the novel. The ordination is also Fanny's movement from the squalor of the Price home to the order of Mansfield Park. Sir Thomas's estate must survive the attacks from without by the Crawfords, and those who are unworthy of it must be expelled. Its heir, Tom, must be (symbolically at least) replaced by Edmund. Maria and Julia are expelled and also replaced. Fanny's marriage to Edmund, giving her a new place at the center of the Bertram family, is as much an ordination for her as Edmund's induction into the Anglican priesthood is for him. Sir Thomas is the source of order in Mansfield, standing against the disorder implied by impersonation in the play as well as against the squalor of Portsmouth. Fanny is not snobbish in rejecting her old family. They are part of another world as much as the Crawfords of London are. These worlds, then, assault the existence of Mansfield from both sides. Although Sir Thomas succeeds in governing himself and in securing the order that nourishes Mansfield Park and its true inheritors, Edmund and Fanny, he fails his other children. The very sternness that leads to his success alienates them, making it impossible for them to benefit from his influence. This is manifest in his allowing Mrs. Norris to rule over his house:

Mrs. Norris's removal from Mansfield was the great supplementary comfort of Sir Thomas's life…. He had felt her an hourly evil, which was so much the worse, as there seemed no chance of its ceasing but with life; she seemed a part of himself, that must be borne forever.

Together, the departure of Mrs. Norris and the rise of Edmund and Fanny amount to the creation of a new world.

In some sense these two interpretations, one seeing Fanny as a symbol of death, the other taking the theme of ordination to mean the establishing of order, might seem paradoxical, since death is inherently disordered. The difficulty can be resolved, however, with the realization that Christianity views death, that is, the translation from mortal life to heaven, as the gaining of a new divine order, perfectly ordained, as the world here is not. In this case, death is revealed to be the opposite of how it appears to humanity, as the hope of a new life. The death Edmund finds in Fanny after the cataclysmic events that end the proper narrative of the novel is indeed rather to be perceived as a second life in a kind of paradise. Nor is it a coincidence that Christianity conceives of heaven precisely as a paradise or well-tended garden. This is what Mansfield Park is to become, sharply contrasting with Mr. Crawford's indifference to the garden of his own estate and with Mr. Rushworth's fumbling and ultimately comic handling of the garden at Southerton, as based on conformity to the views of the world rather than on inspiration. These are the forces of chaos to which the gates protecting the order of Mansfield Park are shut. The estate thus becomes the model for the simplicity and propriety of the landscaping Edmund intends for his parsonage at Thornton Lacey.

Source: Bradley A. Skeen, Critical Essay on Mansfield Park, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.

Jeanine M. Grenberg

In the following excerpt, Grenberg explores the connection between Kantian humility and Austen's Mansfield Park.

… Fanny's society is one in which the shared purpose of assuring good marriages is valued. Unfortunately, another shared purpose of this society is the affirmation of social distinctions. To assure a strong sense of the "us" of this financially stable group, it has been deemed necessary to identify a lesser "them." Fanny is, furthermore, expected to claim her role as a "them," that is, as an inferior outsider. But, like the disfigurement of the shared purpose of making good matches, the shared purpose of enforced assignments of inferiority and superiority is a shared purpose of Fanny's society inconsistent with moral demands, and is itself an expression of unsocial sociability. Fanny's most distinctive act of courageous humility is to reveal herself as willing to challenge both these shared purposes through a cultivation of her own "strong desire to do right." Thus to challenge immoral shared social purposes on moral, instead of on personal, self-serving, grounds is, in the end, a socially virtuous act; that is, one that is motivated by a concern to affirm society.

Fanny's acquisition of courageous humility is all the more estimable in that she had many fears to overcome, and much encouragement to handle these fears by claiming a position of inferiority. Fanny is "afraid of everybody," "ashamed of herself," "finding something to fear in every person and place."

But Fanny claims neither enforced inferiority nor defensive, over-asserted superiority as the way of handling her fears. She is able, instead, to rely on what her cousin, confidant, and eventual husband, Edmund, identifies early on as her "affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right" to guide her. Fanny becomes a person whose acute feelings are guided by equally strong commitment to moral principles. Such adherence to principle prevents her from succumbing, like Maria, to Sir Thomas's financially inspired matchmaking tendencies, and allows her to recognize Henry Crawford as evil. Fanny trains her natural sensitivity into a tool for being morally sensitive to others' feelings and situations, and for disdaining those who lack such emotional and principled sensitivity. But to become this moral person, Fanny needs both to challenge and to fit into the society of which she is a part. And, to accomplish both these goals, she needs courageous humility, a trait of hers revealed most clearly in her rejection of marriage to Henry Crawford.

Before analyzing this refusal, it is important first to appreciate Fanny's reticence in handling the situation. She does tell Henry that she does not want to marry him, but not by sharing her opinion that he is evil, only by saying no to his entreaties and repeating the same in a short note to his sister. Later, Fanny's only response to Sir Thomas's encouragement to allow feelings for Henry to develop is silence, not violent rejection of the plan.

Why does Fanny not assert herself more forcefully in these situations? Is she not succumbing to unsocial sociability by doing so? A better way of understanding Fanny's silence than this is that she feels obliged to maintain a close-knit society even as she finds a way to assert herself. There are two values in question here: affirming herself as a moral agent, and maintaining the coherence of her society. Fanny rejects neither. Her tactic for affirming both is not to reject the idea of marriage to Henry openly, but rather to let time do its work in revealing what she knows to be true of his character. Doing so reveals her courageously humble ability to challenge her society while at the same time recognizing her dependence upon that very same society. She is in the business of building the connectedness that is necessary in any well-functioning society, and thus faces her fears and asserts her rights in a manner compatible with retaining such connection.

To accomplish this, Fanny wants especially to avoid admitting her true opinion of Henry to Sir Thomas. The flirtatiousness of which Fanny accuses Henry was most flagrantly exhibited in his interactions with Sir Thomas's daughter, Maria. But Sir Thomas knows nothing of this, and Fanny feels herself the wrong person to be the bearer of bad news. Fanny even goes so far as to allow herself to be subjected to harsh judgments of herself by Sir Thomas in order to avoid asserting this negative judgment of Henry and, implicitly, of Maria to Sir Thomas. Sir Thomas accuses her of being "wilful and perverse … without any consideration … for those who have surely some right to guide" her, and as exhibiting crass "ingratitude" for those who have raised her. But still Fanny bites her tongue and conceals her judgment of Henry.

Even in conversation with Edmund, Fanny reveals her moral condemnation of Henry only when she is forced, morally, to do so. Edmund reveals himself as one of the many supporters of Fanny allowing her feelings for Henry to develop. But it is only when a first, gentler response to Edmund fails that Fanny turns to her more principled reasons for rejecting Henry. She requires such pressures to reveal her beliefs not because she is unsure of her true principles, but because she is morally concerned to maintain social bonds, and thus tries to avoid bringing pain to others, except when strictly necessary.

But here was that strictly necessary time: her dearest companion who had not seemed to be caught up in the moral confusions of her society, is caught up in this moral confusion. Fanny thus says she "feel[s] it due to herself [to] return … to [discussion of] Mr. Crawford." This is interesting locution: Fanny feels a duty to herself to speak plainly to Edmund about her moral judgment of Henry. Fanny has, up to this point, been keenly aware of her need to refrain from speaking her mind so as to avoid causing pain. But such sensitivity to morally relevant social concerns now comes into conflict with unfair pressure on her from Edmund, Sir Thomas, and others, a pressure implying that she is inferior, not really a moral agent in her own right. "Surely you will do what all the rest of us recognize as the right thing?" is implied by all around Fanny, including Edmund. It is Fanny's moral responsibility to assert that she must act as her own conscience guides her. She is asserting her equality with others in Mansfield Park, her equal right—indeed, duty—to exercise her moral agency. Fanny's concern to maintain connections thus does not blind her to the fact that she too is a center of absolute worth, capable of making, and obligated to make, moral judgments.

She thus admits to Edmund her true reasons for rejecting Henry all along: "‘It is not merely in temper that I consider him as totally unsuited to myself; … I cannot approve his character.’" Fanny's condemnation of Henry is a condemnation of his failure to train his feelings in a morally appropriate way. He is both "improper" and "unfeeling"; that is, he lacks both the proper guiding principles and the proper feelings to support him in establishing and maintaining his connections with others in his social space. Instead of educated sensitivities that connect him to others, he is full of strong, unguided feelings that lead him to injure others. In other words, he is a moral failure. As Fanny more delicately puts it: "‘I am persuaded that he does not think as he ought, on serious subjects.’" Indeed, he has failed in just the moral task that Fanny herself has taken on with such alacrity: the education of feeling via principles. She must reject Henry. He is the very antithesis of those moral values that Fanny herself holds most dear.

Fanny knows where to draw the line not only in her responsibility to herself, but also in her responsibility to other persons. Edmund suggests, to Fanny's horror, that Henry's failure of character makes Henry all the more an appropriate husband for her, since Fanny "will supply the rest; and a most fortunate man he is to attach himself to such a creature—to a woman, who firm as a rock in her own principles, has a gentleness of character … [H]e will make you happy; … but you will make him everything."

Fanny's response to this ridiculous proposal—that her connection to Henry would turn him into a moral being—has a distinctively Kantian ring to it: "‘I would not engage in such a charge … in such an office of high responsibility!’" Henry misunderstands her; he takes her to be saying that she is incapable of such a noble task. What in fact Fanny is asserting here is the good Kantian point that she, and all persons, are properly incapable of such a task: one can only make oneself a moral being; one is not made such by others. And whatever commitment Fanny has to increasing the happiness of other persons, she wouldn't dream of taking on such a futile task as the ground and basis of her lifelong commitment to her mate. As Kant states,

It is a contradiction for me to make another's [moral] perfection my end and consider myself under obligation to promote this. For the perfection of another human being, as a person, consists just in this: that he himself is able to set his end in accordance with his own concepts of duty; and it is self-contradictory to require that I … make it my duty to do … something that only the other himself can do. (Metaphysics of Morals, 6: 386)

Fanny's rejection of Henry is an act of courageous humility. Accepting his proposal would have been an affirmation of her fears of inferiority: it would have been a submission to the dominant opinion that Henry was a good match, and an accession to the implicit suggestion that she was not a moral agent. Rejecting the proposal is thus simultaneously a courageous rejection of those fears of inferiority, and a reaffirmation of her own absolute value and equality as a moral agent. She is thus courageous in just the humble sense we have articulated above: she courageously faces her fear that she was inferior, even that her own happiness could be compromised by her choice, and nonetheless confidently asserts her agentic equality with those around her. She faces these fears with the weapon that we have already found in the arsenal of the humble person: her awareness of and confidence in her worth as a rational agent. Fanny finds the strength to face her fears in her beliefs about her equal worth as a moral agent, all grounded in that original "desire to do right" of which Edmund had spoken so long ago.

But Fanny asserts her rights as a moral agent within the constraints necessary to assure simultaneously that she remains a part of Mansfield Park society. Doing so proves that she is guided also, as the courageously humble person would be, by an abiding awareness of her own limits. Fanny recognizes that she can't flourish without accepting her role as a member of a well-functioning society. This doesn't mean that she is attentive to the needs of others only for her own sake. Rather, she has a genuine appreciation for the value of a well-functioning society in virtue of the fact that she herself, and all persons, are limited and dependent beings. Her concern to maintain her place in her society, and to help assure that that society functions well, is proof of the fact that she is aware of those needs and dependencies that she shares with everyone around her.

This is a point that Sir Thomas initially has difficulty believing. He worries that Fanny's refusal of Henry's proposal is in fact a sign of her "wilfulness of temper, self-conceit … and independence of spirit, which prevails so much in modern days," a sign, that is, of the rejection of the society of which she has been a part. Even Fanny worries that her connectedness to others will suffer: "All, perhaps all, would think her selfish and ungrateful."

One has to have a certain sympathy with Sir Thomas here. It can seem that Fanny's rejection of Henry is an overly individualistic, instead of a socially informed, assertion of moral values. Surely, her act promises to be as disruptive to society as Henry's own evil act. Yet the genuine social value of good marriages is, in Mansfield Park, corrupted in many ways; and Fanny's rejection of Henry is not so much an individualistic rejection of morally sanctioned social values as it is their ultimate defense. She, more than anyone else, is able to recognize the evil that Henry brought to Mansfield Park. By her rejection of him, Fanny is ultimately supporting the society of which she is a part. She goes against social mores because they have become corrupt social mores.

Furthermore, Fanny's choice, unlike Henry's choice of elopement, required Fanny to constrain, not indulge, her concern for happiness. One might think, with Sir Thomas, quite the opposite: all Fanny is doing is seeking her own, very individualistic conception of happiness; she is avoiding marrying someone she doesn't love. But Fanny has good moral reasons never to feel love for Henry. Her choice to reject him is thus in at least short-term tension with her happiness, since rejecting him involves being at odds with everyone around her. The "wretchedness" Fanny felt in that "mortifying conference" with Sir Thomas is, perhaps, the best example of this. Fanny does not want to be at odds with Sir Thomas, not only because she knows her happiness depends upon his continuing good will, but also because she feels a genuine affection for and gratitude to him. She is thus particularly horrified when Sir Thomas accuses her of ingratitude.

That rejecting Henry ends up being something very much in agreement with her long-term happiness does nothing to undermine the fact that it was a principle ultimately compatible with her social obligations, and not an overly independent concern for happiness, that guided Fanny. She needed to be courageous (as opposed to merely self-indulgent) when she challenged those around her by her choice, and part of what she needed to be courageous about was the very real possibility that following principle here would bring great injury to her happiness.

But in order for Fanny's awareness of her limits to be truly that of the courageously humble person, she must also recognize at least her own possibility of indulging in a pursuit of happiness that undermines her social concerns, her own unsocial sociability. And Fanny does have regular temptations to lose herself in her pursuit of personal happiness. The most striking example of this is when Henry's elopement with Maria, an act we've already seen to produce horrible social consequences, happens to have beneficial consequences for Fanny: it allows her to leave Portsmouth (her home, but a place where, having once been introduced to the society of Mansfield Park, she is miserable) and return to her beloved Mansfield Park:

To-morrow! To leave Portsmouth to-morrow!… [S]he felt she was, in the greatest danger of being exquisitely happy, while so many were miserable. The evil which brought such good to her! She dreaded lest she should learn to be insensible of it … [S]uch a combination of blessings as set her heart in a glow, and for a time seemed to distance every pain, and make her incapable of suitably sharing the distress even of those whose distress she thought of most.

Fanny worries that her own joy will dull her sympathies for others' sufferings; that, like Henry, she will become so caught up in her own pursuit of personal happiness, that she will forget her social obligations. But, unlike Henry, she is aware of such a possibility, and does things to prevent its realization: she "call[s] herself to think" on the pains of others, and to recognize those pains as "terrible and grievous," not to be morose, but rather to maintain her sensitivity to members of her society. Fanny is both recognizing her happiness and making an effort to restrain its power over her so as to ensure that her sympathies for others are in their proper place. She thus appropriately constrains her legitimate concern for happiness in light of her moral demands….

Source: Jeanine M. Grenberg, "Courageous Humility in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park," in Social Thoery and Practice, Vol. 33, No. 4, October 2007, p. 645.

Sally B. Palmer

In the following essay, Palmer presents a literary interpretation of Mansfield Park.

In nineteenth-century British fiction, the primary role of the middle- to upper-class aunt with respect to her nephews and nieces is to oversee the development of proper manners and promote suitable marriages. The term breeding encompasses both these matters, both in its literal sense and figuratively, as Jane Austen uses it, to signify decorum. The aunt, then, assumes the position of a breeder—a bloodstock agent or horticulturist, both of which professions were just emerging in the first half of the nineteenth century. Stock-breeders were also known as "improvers."

Although in Austen's day the voyage of the Beagle was still to come, interest ran high in pre-Darwinian and Lamarckian ideas about the laws of organic development and natural selection as they related to both biological and social characteristics. An 1814 manual mentions the necessity of agricultural crossbreeding, and sheep were being cooperatively bred in 1827 for "joints" or wool. By 1840 David Low was boasting that "the cultivation of the Horse … has been carried to the highest perfection," and asserted:

Since 1750 the practice of breeding has been reduced to a system, and founded upon principles. To the natural causes which produce diversities in the characters of animals, we must add those produced by art. By breeding from animals of certain characters, we can communicate the distinctive properties of the parents to the progeny. (i)

Jane Austen's knowledge of this subject surfaces in Mansfield Park, where we read about different kinds of horses correlating to different characters: Tom Bertram's thoroughbred race-horses, Edmund's hunters, the cart horse to carry Mary Crawford's harp, and the pony and "ladies' mount" for Fanny Price to ride.

The problem of the apricot tree in Dr. Grant's garden producing fruit of an inferior variety calls attention to the subject of domestic breeding and in doing so addresses the central problem of the novel itself: corruption of the family line. We read about it in a brief interchange between Dr. Grant and Mrs. Norris, whose role as the Bertram aunt is to forge prudent marriage connections and thus preserve the quality of the original family stock. The interchange occurs in the middle of a discussion of "improvements" to be made at Sotherton Court, significant in view of the two meanings for the word. Sotherton faces "improvements" in its scenic aspect—the cutting down of ancient trees—and "improvements" in the breeding line—anticipating the impending marriage of Maria Bertram to Sotherton's Mr. Rushworth—neither of which will prove salutary. Mrs. Norris says:

We were always doing something [to improve the place]. It was only the spring twelvemonth before Mr. Norris's death, that we put in the apricot … which is now grown such a noble tree, and getting to such perfection, sir.

Although the object of discussion is Dr. Grant's apricot tree, Mrs. Norris might equally be speaking of Sir Thomas Bertram's family tree, whose youngest branches have been her especial pride and care, and with which she can likewise find no fault. Dr. Grant's reply also applies to the Bertram family: "The tree thrives well beyond a doubt, madam, the soil is good; and I never pass it without regretting, that the fruit should be so little worth the trouble of gathering." In Mansfield Park the family represents the land, and the land the family. Here we learn that Mansfield Park should be producing a better generation of heirs.

Always anxious to absolve herself from blame and to deny faults in her favorites, Mrs. Norris indignantly defends the quality of the tree's fruit by invoking its pedigree name, whose similarity to the name of Mansfield Park should not be ignored. She also alludes to its high price, reflecting the high economic status of the Mansfield Park family: "Sir, it is a moor park, we bought it as a moor park … and I know it cost seven shillings, and was charged as a moor park."

When, later, the quality of Mansfield Park stock—Bertram scions Tom and Maria—proves as corrupt as the apricots worthless, Mrs. Norris, although the primary breeding agent, again refuses responsibility. It is left to Fanny Price, herself grafted onto the Bertram rootstock by her aunt's efforts, to reject cross-breeding with the tainted Crawford stock and ensure that the ancient line is transmitted pure with a closed system of inbreeding through Fanny's marriage to her cousin Edmund.

Many critics have noted in Mansfield Park Austen's essential distrust of modern reconstructions or "improvements" upon traditional family life, as well as on the "noble old places" where they live. Yet, at the novel's end, when the reconstructed Mansfield Park family has itself been "improved" by the elimination of aunt Norris and Maria, the substitution of Fanny as daughter, and the importation of Susan Price as resident niece, it is evident that we are to see this reconfigured family as changed for the better. For Austen, the Bertram pedigree has been shored up and the line of descent improved through the natural consequences of morality and immorality. This, then, is Austen's "natural selection."

Alistair Duckworth, in "Jane Austen's Accommodations," sees Austen's aim in Mansfield Park as to "invigorate existing structures." In a program to preserve a declining bloodline, hybrid vigor is achieved by introducing a strong representative of a different strain. Austen inserts Fanny Price's middle-class blood into the depleted Bertram strain, whose effeteness is suggested by the perennial lassitude of Lady Bertram and the moral degeneration of Tom and Maria. In rejecting deficient bloodstock such as the Crawfords, and discarding defective specimens such as Maria Bertram, Austenian family reconfiguration amounts to a controlled domestic breeding program where only the morally well-bred are selected to reproduce and thus perpetuate the family lineage.

Source: Sally B. Palmer, "Austen's Mansfield Park," in Explicator, Vol. 56, No. 4, Summer 1998, p. 181.

SOURCES

Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park, edited by John Lucas, Oxford University Press, 1970.

Byrne, Paula, "‘The Unmeaning Luxuries of Bath’: Urban Pleasures in Jane Austen's World," in Persuasions, Vol. 26, 2004, pp. 13-26.

Byrne, Sandie, ed., Jane Austen: Mansfield Park, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, esp. pp. 9-19.

Fleishman, Avrom, A Reading of Mansfield Park: An Essay in Critical Synthesis, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967, pp. 57-69.

Freud, Sigmund, "The Theme of the Three Caskets," in The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay, Norton, 1989, pp. 514-22; originally published in Imago, 1913.

Karounos, Michael, "Ordination and Revolution in Mansfield Park," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 44, No. 4, Autumn 2004, pp. 715-36.

Le Faye, Deirdre, Jane Austen: A Family Record, Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 197-98.

Nokes, David, Jane Austen: A Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

Perrault, Charles, "Cinderella," in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Folio Society, 1998, pp. 69-94.

Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, 1994, pp. 93-116.

Sales, Roger, Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England, Routledge, 1994.

Stewart, Maaja A., Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions: Jane Austen's Novels in Eighteenth-Century Contexts, University of Georgia Press, 1993.

Trilling, Lionel, "Jane Austen and Mansfield Park," in The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent: Selected Essays, edited by Leon Wieseltier, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, pp. 292-310; originally published in The Opposing Self: Nine Essays in Criticism, by Lionel Trilling, Viking, 1955.

FURTHER READING

Bush, M. L., The English Aristocracy: A Comparative Synthesis, Manchester University Press, 1984.

This book provides an introduction to the British class system that shaped the character of Austen's writing.

Copeland, Edward, and Juliet McMaster, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

This collection of essays covers every aspect of Austen's life and novels from a variety of literary, historical, and sociological viewpoints.

Tomalin, Claire, Jane Austen: A Life, Vintage Books, 1999.

This is the standard scholarly biography of Austen.

Turner, Roger, Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape, Rizzoli, 1985.

This book is a biography of the leading landscape architect of the late eighteenth century. It discusses his work in the larger context of the landscape gardening of Austen's era and provides insight into the theme of gardening so important in Mansfield Park.

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