Title page of the first edition
|Preceded by||Pride and Prejudice|
Mansfield Park is the third novel by Jane Austen, written at Chawton Cottage between February 1811 and 1813. It was published in May 1814 by Thomas Egerton, who published Jane Austen's two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When the novel reached a second edition in 1816, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who also published its successor, Emma. Mansfield Park is a pygmalion morality epic.
The events of the story are put in motion by three sisters: Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price. Of the three sisters, Lady Bertram married extremely well, to a wealthy baronet; Mrs. Norris married a parson, who is given the living at the local parsonage by Sir Thomas Bertram, Lady Bertram's husband. This allows them to live comfortably, yet far below the standards set by the Bertram's lifestyle. The third sister married a naval officer who shortly afterwards was wounded in battle and pensioned as a Lieutenant at half pay. They then proceeded to have nine children, which they could scarcely afford. Mrs. Norris, always wishing to appear to do right, proposes that Lady Bertram take one of the children to live with her at Mansfield Park. They choose Fanny Price, the eldest daughter, who is the protagonist of the novel. Thus, at age 10, Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives.
Fanny's life at Mansfield Park is not as she might wish. Her Aunt Norris, an energetic woman, who strongly advocated the plan of bringing Fanny when it was first proposed, becomes less interested as time goes on and does little to assist with Fanny's care, except to frequently point out what a bother Fanny is, and how much money she is costing the family. She refuses to allow a fire to be set in Fanny's room, though Fanny is in poor health.
At Mansfield Park, Fanny grows up with her four older cousins, Tom (17), Edmund (16), Maria (13), and Julia (12), but is always treated like an unwanted poor relation. Only Edmund shows her real kindness. He is also the most good-natured of the siblings: Maria and Julia are vain and spoiled, while Tom is an irresponsible gambler. Over time, Fanny's gratitude for Edmund's thoughtfulness secretly grows into romantic love. Lady Bertram is of a lazy and indolent temperament and rarely does anything to assist the raising or monitoring of the children, while all of the children are in awe of Sir Thomas. Mrs. Norris showers attention and affection on her Bertram nieces, particularly Maria, enjoying the prestige and wealth associated with them, but is verbally abusive and mean-spirited toward Fanny, who she sees as undeserving and inferior to the others. She tries to exclude Fanny from outings and other pleasures.
A few years after Fanny arrives, Aunt Norris is widowed, moves into a cottage of her own, and becomes a constant presence at Mansfield Park. Meanwhile, Thomas Bertram has been engaging in dissolute activities, and incurs a lot of debt due to irresponsible spending and gambling. Thus, though the living of the parsonage is freed up by their Uncle Norris's death, and it was to be reserved for Edmund after his Ordination to provide him with an independent income, it needs to be sold to another in order to gain the money to help Sir Thomas pay Tom's debts.
When Fanny is 16, stern patriarch Sir Thomas leaves for a year to deal with problems on his plantation in Antigua. He takes Tom along, hoping that the experience will sober him up. Meanwhile Mrs. Norris has taken on the task of finding a husband for Maria and manages to introduce her favourite niece to Mr. Rushworth, a very rich (₤12,000 a year), but rather dull and stupid man. Maria accepts his marriage proposal, subject to Sir Thomas's approval on his return.
After a year in Antigua, Sir Thomas sends Tom home while he continues business alone. Although his wife is indolent almost to the point of disengagement, Sir Thomas feels confident about his family situation, relying on the officious Mrs. Norris and steady, responsible Edmund to keep life running smoothly.
When Fanny is 17, the fashionable, wealthy, and worldly Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary Crawford, arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, their half-sister. The Crawfords had previously lived with their uncle, Admiral Crawford, and his wife. When his wife died, however, the Admiral brought into the house a mistress, necessitating, for propriety's sake, that Mary Crawford live elsewhere. Unable to persuade her brother to allow her to live with him at his own country estate, her half-sister happily consented to allow her to live at the parsonage. The Crawfords are quite a bit wealthier than the Grants, so Mary is apprehensive that the new location will be a step down; but she ends up satisfied.
The arrival of the lively, attractive Crawfords disrupts the staid world of Mansfield and sparks a series of romantic entanglements. Mary and Edmund begin to form an attachment, despite her original desire to form a romantic interest with Tom, who is the heir of Mansfield Park. She is disappointed, though, when she learns that Edmund wants to be a clergyman, since she sees that as dull and unfashionable. She likes him enough, though, that she is willing to continue their relationship, although Edmund worries that her often cynical conversation may mask a lack of firm principle.
Fanny fears that Mary has enchanted Edmund, and that love has blinded him to her flaws. (Also, of course, she is in love with him herself.) Meanwhile, during a visit to Mr. Rushworth's ancestral estate in Sotherton, Henry deliberately plays with the affections of both Maria and Julia, driving them apart. Maria believes that Henry is falling in love with her and treats Mr. Rushworth dismissively, provoking his jealousy. Although nobody is paying much attention to Fanny, she is highly observant and witnesses Maria and Henry in inappropriate situations.
Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr. Yates, the young people decide to put on Elizabeth Inchbald's play Lovers' Vows; however, Edmund and Fanny both initially object, believing Sir Thomas would disapprove and feeling that the subject matter of the play, which includes adultery and illegitimacy, is not appropriate. Eventually Edmund reluctantly agrees to take on the role of Anhalt, the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford. Besides giving Mary and Edmund plenty of scope for talking about love and marriage, the play provides a pretext for Henry and Maria to flirt in public. Fanny, however, continues to disapprove of her cousins' activities.
When Sir Thomas unexpectedly arrives home in the middle of a rehearsal, the theatricals are abruptly terminated. Henry, whom Maria had expected to propose to her, leaves, and she feels crushed, realising that he does not love her. Although she neither likes nor respects Mr. Rushworth, she decides to go ahead and marry him, to escape the oppressive atmosphere of Mansfield and as a balm for her lost love affair with Henry, and they honeymoon in Brighton, taking Julia who hasn't been there. Meanwhile, Fanny's improved appearance and gentle disposition endear her to Sir Thomas, who begins treating her a bit less distantly. With Maria and Julia gone, Fanny and Mary Crawford are naturally thrown into each other's company. Out of affection and because she knows it will please Edmund and his father, Mary goes out of her way to befriend Fanny.
Henry returns to Mansfield Park and announces to Mary that he intends to amuse himself by making the normally calm, unemotional Fanny fall in love with him. However, Fanny is steadfastly if secretly in love with Edmund, and the tables are turned when Henry actually falls in love with Fanny. To further his suit, he uses his family connections to help Fanny's brother William obtain a commission as a naval lieutenant, to Fanny's great joy and appreciation. However, when Henry proposes marriage, Fanny rejects him out of hand, partially because she disapproves of his moral character, and also because she loves someone else. Sir Thomas is dismayed and startled by her refusal, since it is an extremely advantageous match for a poor girl like Fanny. He reproaches her for ingratitude, and believing it is all female timidity on Fanny's part, encourages Henry to persevere.
To bring Fanny to her senses, Sir Thomas sends her home for a visit to Portsmouth, hoping that the lack of creature comforts there will help her set a higher value on Henry's offer. She sets off with William, who is briefly on leave, and sees him off in his first command. At Portsmouth, she develops a firm bond with her younger sister Susan, but is taken aback by the contrast between her dissolute surroundings—noise, chaos, unpalatable food, crude conversation, and filth everywhere—and the environment at Mansfield. Henry visits her to try to convince her that he has changed and is worthy of her affection. Although Fanny still maintains that she cannot marry him, her attitude begins to soften, particularly as Edmund and Mary seem to be moving toward an engagement, which would mean Edmund would be lost to her forever.
Henry leaves for London, and shortly afterward, Fanny learns that scandal has enveloped him and Maria. The two had met at a party and rekindled their flirtation, which results in an affair. An indiscreet servant made the affair public, and the story ended up in the newspapers. The exposure of the affair results in Maria running away with Henry. Mr. Rushworth sues Maria for divorce, and the proud Bertram family is devastated. To make matters worse, Tom has become gravely ill as a result of his dissolute lifestyle, and Julia, fearing that her father will punish her greatly as a result of her knowledge of Maria's affair, has eloped with Tom's flighty friend Mr. Yates.
In the midst of this crisis, Fanny returns to Mansfield Park with her sister Susan, now joyfully welcomed by all the family. A repentant Sir Thomas realises that Fanny was right to reject Henry's proposal and now regards her as his daughter. During an emotional meeting with Mary Crawford, Edmund discovers that Mary does not condemn Henry and Maria's adultery, only that it was discovered. Her main concern is covering it up, and she implies that if Fanny had only accepted Henry, there would have been no affair. She also expresses some hope that Tom will not recover from his illness, so that Edmund will inherit Mansfield Park. Edmund, who had idolised Mary, is devastated that her true nature has been revealed to him. He breaks off the relationship, returns to Mansfield, and goes ahead with plans to be ordained a minister.
While he is despairing of ever getting over Mary, Edmund comes to realise how important Fanny is to him. He declares his love for her, and they are married and eventually move to the Mansfield Park parsonage where they are near to those they love best. Tom recovers from his illness, a steadier and better man for it, and Julia's husband, Mr. Yates, turns out to be not so poor a marriage prospect after all. Henry Crawford refuses to marry Maria, who is banished by her family to live "in another country", where she is joined by her Aunt Norris. Fanny becomes the effective moral centre of Mansfield Park.
- Fanny Price
- The second eldest of nine children who is sent to live with her mother's sisters at Mansfield Park at age 10. Fanny is sensitive, shy, intelligent, virtuous, with a good sense of morals; and her status at Mansfield Park as a dependent poor relation only intensifies these traits. Much of the novel takes place when she is 18 and 19. She has been in love with her cousin Edmund since she was young and when both realise their feelings, they get married. Fanny is pursued by Mr. Henry Crawford.
- Lady Bertram
- Maria Ward, who married the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram. Middle sister of three Wards: Mrs. Norris, Maria, and Fanny's mother Frances, also called Fanny. She is perpetually vague and distracted. She is lazy and indolent and primarily involved with her lapdog pugs. Born "Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds [...].".
- Mrs Norris
- The officious, skinflint older sister of Lady Bertram who lives near Mansfield Park. Her husband, Mr. Norris, was the parson at Mansfield Park until his death. She dislikes Fanny and takes every opportunity to put her down and make a distinction between Fanny's treatment and that of her wealthier cousins. Mrs. Norris also takes every opportunity to save money, such as taking jellies and sewing materials from the main house for her own home.
- Sir Thomas Bertram, baronet
- The husband of Fanny's aunt, Lady Bertram. He owns the Mansfield Park estate and an estate in Antigua. He is initially stern and correct, yet a man with a strong sense of family. He aids his wife's nephews in finding a place when they are old enough. He later realises his behaviour may have in part led to the ruin of his eldest daughter and the dissolute behavior of his eldest son. He wishes his own children were more like his niece and nephew, Fanny and William Price.
- Tom Bertram
- The older son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; he is seven years older than Fanny. Tom is principally interested in horseracing, carousing in London society, and enjoying the pleasures of the theatre with his friend, Mr. Yates. Tom incurs large debts, forcing Sir Thomas to sell the church position that would have gone to Tom's younger brother, Edmund. Eventually, Tom becomes gravely ill due to his dissolute lifestyle, helping to teach him the error of his ways.
- Edmund Bertram
- The younger son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; he is six years older than Fanny. He plans to be a clergyman. He alone among his family has any consideration for Fanny's feelings. As her protector and friend, he has a great deal of influence over her and helps form her character. But he is also given to self-deception, and thoughtlessly causes Fanny pain, especially when he becomes attracted to Miss Crawford. But Miss Crawford's opinions on the scandal involving her brother mortify him. He later realises he is in love with Fanny and they are married.
- Maria Bertram
- The very beautiful elder daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; she is three years older than Fanny. She becomes engaged to Mr. Rushworth but she becomes attached to Henry Crawford. She expects Mr. Crawford to propose and when he doesn't, she marries Mr. Rushworth for his £12,000 a year, despite knowing him to be a boorish young man with little but his money to recommend him. Mr. Crawford crosses her path in London soon after her marriage and they begin an affair, resulting in a great public scandal. Rushworth divorces her and Mr. Crawford refuses to marry her. As a divorced woman she will be financially dependent on her family and they banish her, with her Aunt Norris, to live "in another country."
- Julia Bertram
- The younger daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; she is two years older than Fanny. She has strong feelings toward Mr. Crawford, but soon learns that he prefers Maria despite, or because of, her sister's engagement. Mr. Yates pursues her, which is swiftly ended when Sir Thomas returns to the house. Julia later goes with Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth on their honeymoon and to their house in town. After Maria runs away with Mr Crawford, Julia elopes with Mr. Yates, ostensibly to escape blame and punishment by her father for Maria's elopement with Mr. Crawford.
- Dr. Grant
- Parson at the Mansfield Park parsonage, after Mr Norris dies. Age 45 when he arrives at Mansfield Park. He is a man who greatly enjoys food and drink.
- Mrs. Grant
- The wife of Mr. Grant, and half-sister of Henry and Mary Crawford. She is very interested to see her brother and sister married. She is 15 years younger than her husband; they have no children.
- Mr. Henry Crawford
- Brother of Mrs. Grant and Miss Crawford. A charming, persuasive and eligible bachelor who plays with the emotions of Maria and Julia. This is observed by Fanny. After Maria's marriage, he decides to make Fanny fall in love with him but instead falls in love with her. He loses any chance with her after he and Maria elope together.
- Miss Mary Crawford
- The pretty and charming sister of Mr. Crawford and Mrs Grant, who takes a keen interest in Edmund Bertram in spite of his being a second son. Though she is charming, she has certain immoral views and opinions which mean in the end that she loses Edmund. She is often kind to Fanny Price, but is not a reliable friend. She is aware of her brother Henry's plan to toy with Fanny's heart, but does nothing to discourage him or warn Fanny. Fanny believes her to be driven primarily by mercenary considerations.
- Mr. Rushworth
- A wealthy but boring man who becomes engaged to Maria Bertram. He divorces her after she runs away with Henry Crawford.
- The Hon. John Yates
- A good friend of Tom Bertram. Tom and Yates carouse in London society and bring their love of the theatre to Mansfield Park. Yates expresses interest in Julia Bertram. He elopes with Julia around the time Mr. Crawford and Maria run away together.
- William Price
- Fanny's older brother, a naval midshipman, with whom she is very close. Mr. Crawford seeks to ingratiate himself with Fanny by helping William advance in his profession. William is polite, kind and engaging, and Fanny's only correspondent in her family until she visits them. Helped early in his naval career by his uncle Sir Thomas.
- Mr. Price
- Fanny's father, an officer in the Marines who lives in Portsmouth. His main interests are the sea and the ships that sail from Portsmouth, and keeping up a social life with his seagoing friends. His large family outruns his income.
- Mrs. Price
- born Frances (Fanny) Ward, Fanny's mother, sister of Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. She married a poor lieutenant of marines, Mr Price, for love. She resembles Lady Bertram in her easy character and laziness, but under the pressure of a large family and a low income she has become slatternly and overburdened. Like her husband, she seems to care little for Fanny. Mrs Price's husband becomes disabled and is released from the service on half pay; she has settled for a life far less comfortable than those of her sisters.
- Susan Price
- Fanny's younger sister with whom Fanny first becomes close on a visit home. She returns with Fanny to Mansfield Park and takes Fanny's place helping her aunt when Fanny marries Edmund. Her character is most similar to Fanny's, of all her siblings.
- Lady Stornoway
- A society woman, who is complicit in Mr Crawford and Maria's flirtation. They meet at her parties and eventually run away together from her home.
- Mrs. Rushworth
- Mr. Rushworth's mother and Maria's mother-in-law. Mr. Rushworth is on his way to fetch her at Easter when Mr. Crawford and Maria increase their flirtation and eventually run away together. Mrs. Rushworth is not fond of her daughter-in-law after the marriage.
Literary significance and criticism
Mansfield Park is the most controversial of Austen's major novels. Regency critics praised the novel's wholesome morality, but many modern readers find Fanny's timidity and disapproval of the theatricals difficult to sympathise with and reject the idea (made explicit in the final chapter) that she is a better person for the relative privations of her childhood. Jane Austen's own mother thought Fanny "insipid", and many other readers have found her priggish and unlikeable. Other critics point out that she is a complex personality, perceptive yet given to wishful thinking, and that she shows courage and grows in self-esteem during the latter part of the story. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin, who is generally rather critical of Fanny, argues that "it is in rejecting obedience in favour of the higher dictate of remaining true to her own conscience that Fanny rises to her moment of heroism." But Tomalin reflects the ambivalence that many readers feel towards Fanny when she also writes: "More is made of Fanny Price's faith, which gives her the courage to resist what she thinks is wrong; it also makes her intolerant of sinners, whom she is ready to cast aside."
The story contains much social satire, targeted particularly at the two aunts.
At one point, Edward Said implicated the novel in western culture's casual acceptance of the material benefits of slavery and imperialism (a connection already made by Vladimir Nabokov in his Lectures on Literature, delivered in the 1940s although not published until 1980), citing Austen's failure to mention that the estate of Mansfield Park was made possible only through slave labour. At another point, however, he seems to have acknowledged that Jane Austen disapproved of slavery:
"All the evidence says that even the most routine aspects of holding slaves on a West Indian sugar plantation were cruel stuff. And everything we know about Jane Austen and her values is at odds with the cruelty of slavery. Fanny Price reminds her cousin that after asking Sir Thomas about the slave trade, "there was such a dead silence" as to suggest that one world could not be connected with the other since there simply is no common language for both. That is true."
Critics such as Gabrielle White, have criticised Said's condemnation of Jane Austen and western culture, maintaining that Austen and other writers, including Samuel Johnson and Edmund Burke, opposed slavery and helped make its eventual abolition possible. Claire Tomalin, following literary critic Brian Southam, claims that Fanny, usually so timid, questions her uncle about the slave trade and receives no answer, suggesting that her vision of the trade's immorality is clearer than his. However, Ellen Moody has challenged Southam's interpretation, arguing that Fanny's uncle would not have been "pleased" (as the text suggests) to be questioned on the subject if Southam's reading of the scene were correct.
||This paragraph possibly contains original research. (July 2014)|
It could also be argued that Jane Austen was sublimely indifferent (at least in her novels) to the outside world. Mansfield Park was written at the height of the Napoleonic War, yet the war is barely even mentioned in this or any other of her novels. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the country was in turmoil as a result, again barely a mention—her novels contain not a single mention of the steam engine, the growth of the manufacturing cities or even the turnip (which had a much more profound effect on the British economy than any plant with the exception of cotton—also not mentioned). She even manages to omit any mention of the abolition of the slave trade of 1808, four years before she started the novel and the culmination of a huge, controversial public campaign - although slavery itself had not been abolished in the British Empire.
The world of the novel draws heavily upon the symbolic meaning of locations and events. The first critic to raise this aspect was Virginia Woolf.
For instance, the ha-ha in Sotherton Court is a boundary which some will cross, while others will not, thus indicating the future moral infringements of Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford. Later on in the novel, the theatricals (based upon Lovers' Vows) in which the company is involved at the request of Tom Bertram (with the exception of Fanny Price) is further indication of real life future behaviour.
The theme of country versus city symbolises that which is natural and life-renewing over against the artificial and corrupting effects of society. In the stargazing scene in Book I, the starlight symbolises one's capacity to transcend selfish preoccupations and the suffering they cause, over against the candlelight, suggesting small-minded concerns.
Mansfield Park has been the subject of a number of adaptations:
- 1983: Mansfield Park, BBC series directed by David Giles, starring Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price, Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram and Anna Massey as Mrs Norris.
- 1999: Mansfield Park, film directed by Patricia Rozema, starring Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price and Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram (interestingly, he also featured in the 1983 version, playing one of Fanny's brothers). This film alters several major elements of the story and depicts Fanny as author of some of Austen's actual letters as well as her children's history of England. It emphasises Austen's disapproval of slavery.
- 2003: Mansfield Park, a radio drama adaptation commissioned by BBC Radio 4, starring Felicity Jones as Fanny Price, Benedict Cumberbatch as Edmund Bertram, and David Tennant as Tom Bertram. 
- 2007: Mansfield Park, a television adaptation produced by Company Pictures and starring Billie Piper as Fanny Price and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram, was screened on ITV1 in the UK on 18 March 2007.
- 2011: Mansfield Park, a chamber opera by Jonathan Dove, with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton, commissioned and first performed by Heritage Opera, 30 July – 15 August 2011.
- 2012: Mansfield Park, stage adaptation by Tim Luscombe, produced by the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, toured the UK in 2012 and 2013. The play was published by Oberon Books (ISBN 978-1-84943-484-3).
- 2014: From Mansfield With Love, a YouTube Vlog adaptation of Mansfield Park by Foot in the Door Theatre. Starting in December 2014
- Where "another country" likely refers simply to a different region of England, since the novel is set during wartime, when Napoleon controlled most of the continent.
- "Early opinions of Mansfield Park". Retrieved 16 May 2006.
- "Controversy over Fanny Price, from the AUSTEN-L mailing list". Retrieved 16 May 2006.
- Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1997), p. 230.
- Warraq, Ibn (July 2007). "Jane Austen and Slavery". New English Review. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
- Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life, p.230.
- Moody, Ellen. "A Commentary on Brian Southam's exegesis in TLS". Retrieved 19 December 2006.
- Janet Todd, Jane Austen in Context, 341
- Dooks, Brian (16 August 2006). "Historic hall to host Austen adaptation". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 16 August 2006.
- Quirke, Kieron (16 August 2011). "Mansfield Park, Arcola Theatre – Review". Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
- Stebbing, Eve (24 September 2012). "Mansfield Park, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds - Review". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
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