Title page of the first edition
Mansfield Park is the third published novel by Jane Austen, first published in 1814. The novel tells the story of Fanny Price starting when her overburdened family sends her at age 10 to live in the household of her wealthy aunt and uncle, through to her marriage.
The novel was first published by Thomas Egerton. A second edition was published in 1816 by John Murray, still within Austen's lifetime. The novel did not receive any critical attention when it was initially published; the first particular notice was in 1821, in a positive review of each of the published novels by Jane Austen.
The critical reception from the late 20th century onward has been controversial. Paula Byrne, writing in the 21st century, found this to be one of Austen's best novels, and called it pioneering for being about meritocracy. However, Mansfield Park is perhaps Austen's most controversial novel due to its brief mention of the British slave trade, and the fact that Fanny's uncle and benefactor, Sir Thomas, owns a plantation in the West Indies. Some critics characterize Thomas's trip to Antigua as nothing more than an excuse for his long absence. The late Edward Said criticized the novel for failing to clearly criticize Sir Thomas's profiteering in the West Indies.
Two notable film versions of the novel were released: Frances O'Connor starring in the lead role in the 1999 version co-starring Jonny Lee Miller and followed by Billie Piper starring in the 2007 version for ITV1 co-starring Blake Ritson.
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Frances "Fanny" Price, at age 10, is sent from her family home to live with her uncle and aunt in the country. It is a jolting change, from the elder sister of many, to the youngest at the estate of Sir Thomas Bertram, husband of her mother’s older sister. Her cousin Edmund finds her alone one day and helps her. She wants to write to her older brother William. Edmund provides the writing materials, the first kindness to her in this new family. Her cousins are Julia, age 12, Maria, age 13, Edmund, age 15 and Tom age 17. Her aunt is kind but her uncle frightens her with his authoritative demeanor. Fanny’s mother has another sister, Mrs Norris. She is the wife of the clergyman at Mansfield parsonage. Mrs Norris has no children and takes a great interest in her nieces and nephews. Mrs Norris keeps up a strict difference between her Bertram nieces and lowly Fanny. Sir Thomas helps the sons of the Price family find occupations as they are old enough. William joins the Navy as a midshipman not long after Fanny is at Mansfield Park. He visits them once before going to sea, and writes to his sister.
Five years after Fanny arrives, Aunt Norris is widowed and moves into a cottage of her own. Her visits to Mansfield Park increase, as does her mistreatment of Fanny. Tom Bertram incurs a large debt and to pay it, Sir Thomas sells the living of the parsonage, freed up by the death of Uncle Norris, to clergyman Dr Grant.
When Fanny is 16, Sir Thomas leaves to deal with problems on his plantation in Antigua. He takes Tom along and trusts to Aunt Norris for the others. Mrs Norris takes on the task of finding a husband for Maria and finds James Rushworth, with income of ₤12,000 a year, but weak-willed and stupid. Maria accepts his marriage proposal, subject to Sir Thomas's approval on his return. After a year in Antigua, Sir Thomas sends Tom home to Mansfield Park.
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 arrival of the Crawfords enlivens life in Mansfield and sparks romantic entanglements. Mary and Edmund begin to form an attachment. She is disappointed to learn that Edmund will be a clergyman. Fanny fears that Mary's charms and attractions have blinded Edmund to her flaws. On a visit to Mr Rushworth's estate Sotherton, Henry deliberately plays with the affections of both Maria and Julia. Maria believes Henry is falling in love with her and treats Mr Rushworth dismissively, provoking his jealousy. Fanny observes this while Aunt Norris, blinded by her own self-importance and Edmund, infatuated with Mary, fail to perceive the various flirtations.
Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr Yates, the young people decide to put on an amateur performance of the play Lovers' Vows. Edmund objects, believing Sir Thomas would disapprove and feeling that the subject matter of the play is inappropriate for his sisters. Edmund reluctantly agrees to take on the role of Anhalt, the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford. The play provides a pretext for Henry and Maria to flirt in public. Fanny observes this, but again Aunt Norris, caught up in the excitement of staging a play, does not.
Sir Thomas arrives home earlier than expected, while all are in the midst of rehearsal. He stops the theatricals. Henry, from whom Maria had imminently expected a marriage proposal, instead takes his leave, and she is not pleased. She goes ahead with marriage to Rushworth, with her father's permission. They honeymoon in Brighton and then settle in London, taking Julia with them. Fanny's improved appearance and gentle disposition endear her to Sir Thomas. With Maria and Julia gone, Fanny and Mary Crawford visit often.
Henry returns to Mansfield parsonage, intending to entertain himself by making Fanny fall in love with him. He does not succeed but falls in love with Fanny himself. To further his suit, he uses his family connections to help Fanny's brother William gain promotion as a naval lieutenant, to her great joy and gratitude. When Henry proposes marriage, Fanny however, rejects him out of hand. Sir Thomas is astonished at her refusal. He reproaches her for ingratitude, and encourages Henry to persevere.
To bring Fanny to her senses, Sir Thomas sends her for a visit to her parents in Portsmouth, hoping that the contrast will awaken her to the value of Henry's offer. She sets off with William and sees him in his first berth as a commissioned officer. 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 harmonious environment at Mansfield. Henry visits her there. Although Fanny still refuses him, her attitude begins to soften, particularly as Edmund and Mary seem to be moving toward an engagement.
Henry leaves for London, and shortly afterward, Fanny learns that scandal has enveloped him and Maria. The two meet at a party and rekindle their flirtation, which leads to an affair. An indiscreet servant makes the affair public and the story is in the newspapers. Maria runs away with Henry. Mr Rushworth sues Maria for divorce, and the proud Bertram family is devastated. Tom has fallen gravely ill as a result of his dissolute lifestyle, and Julia, fearing her father's anger for concealing Maria's affair, has eloped with Tom's friend Mr Yates.
Edmund takes Fanny and Susan to Mansfield Park. A repentant Sir Thomas realises that Fanny was right to reject Henry's proposal and now regards her as his own daughter. During an emotional meeting with Mary Crawford, Edmund discovers that Mary does not condemn Henry and Maria's adultery, and regrets only that it was discovered. Her view is to cover it up and blames Fanny for failing to accept Henry right away. Edmund is devastated to discover her true principles. He breaks off the relationship and returns to Mansfield Park.
Edmund slowly gets over his love for Mary. Then he comes to realise how important Fanny is to him. He declares his love for her, and they are married and eventually move to Mansfield parsonage, in the circle of those they love best. Tom recovers from his illness, a steadier and better man for it, and Julia's husband, Mr Yates, proves to be a respectable husband. Henry Crawford refuses to marry Maria. Her shame gives her no options, so her father sets her up in a house with Aunt Norris, out of his sight. Mary Crawford moves in with her sister, hoping for a husband.
- 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. Historian and biographer Jon Spence suggested in Becoming Jane Austen that Mrs Norris was based on Austen's sister-in-law Mary Lloyd, who had married James Austen, and who was the younger sister of Austen's close friend Martha Lloyd.
- 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.
Themes and symbols
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 transgressions 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. Another theme of the novel was need to uphold traditional English values and religion against the atheist values of the French Revolution. The character of Mary Crawford whose "French" irreverence had caused her to cease attending church is unfavorably contrasted with Fanny Price's "English" sobriety and faith leads her to proclaim that church services should continue as "It was a valuable part of former times. There is something in a chapel and chaplain so much in character with a great house, with one's idea of what such a household should be!". Austen presents the Church of England as a force for stability that holds together family, customs and English traditions in contrast to Crawford whose lack of interest in religion makes her an alien and disruptive force in the English countryside.
Development of the novel
At least part of the novel may have been autobiographical. In 1802, the Reverend Harris Bigg Wither of the Church of England proposed marriage to Austen, which she declined. The reaction of her family is not known, but it is likely that her father who was anxious to get his daughter married off so that he would cease to have to support her would have one of great disapproval. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram harshly lectures Fanny Price for refusing the marriage proposal of Henry Crawford, telling her she was being disgracefully selfish in not marrying a man she did not love, but who would had brought great material advantages. In the novel ends with Price being vindicated in rejecting Crawford as supremely unsuitable husband material. Austen's sister Cassandra Austen wanted the novel to end with Price marrying Crawford, and this dispute is one of the few known between the sisters. The English studies professor John Halperin also noted that Austen's mother loved all of her novels except Mansfield Park, which he suggests may have been in part because of the similarities between Sir Thomas and her husband.
General literary criticism
The story contains much social satire, targeted particularly at the two aunts. A major debate concerns whatever the character of Price is meant to be ironic, a parody of the wholesome heroines that were so popular in Regency novels. William H. Magee wrote in 1966 that "irony pervades if (it) does not dominate the presentation of Fanny Price." By contrast, Andrew Wright argued in 1968 that Price "is presented straight-forwardly, without any contradiction of any kind". Lionel Trilling maintained that Austen created Price as "irony directed against irony itself". By contrast, the American English professor Nina Auerbach argued that Price was a genteel version of the a popular archetype of the Romantic age; the monster who by the sheer act of existing does not and cannot ever fit into society. In Auebrach's interpretation of Price, she has more in common with the monster created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelly's novel Frankenstein than she does with any of the other Austen heroines or the brooding character Hamlet, who was very popular with Romantic audiences. Auerbrach wrote that about that there is "...something horrible about her that deprives the imagination of its appetite for ordinary life and compels it toward the deformed, the dispossessed." Auerbach argues that Price defines herself in a negative sense, by refusing to involve herself in anything enjoyable or pleasant such as not acting in the play Lovers’ Vows or eating food only because she has to (and even then eating induces only nausea in her) a stern, priggish woman who watches the world around her in silent disapproval, a character who sums herself up in the line: "Madam, I know not seems". Auerbach sums Price "As a woman who belongs only where she is not, Fanny is a more indigestible figure than the wistful Victorian orphans for whom embracing their kin is a secular salvation. In the tenacity with which she adheres to an identity validated by no family, home, or love, she repudiates the vulnerability of the waif to the unlovable toughness of the authentic transplant. Repelling the conventional female endowments of love and home, Fanny passes from the isolation of the outcast to that of the conqueror, aligning her rather with the Romantic hero than with the heroine of romance: her solitude is her condition, not a state from which the comedy will save her....The mobility and malleability of Mansfield Park is a dark realization of an essentially Romantic vision, of which Fanny Price represents both the horror and the best hope. Only in Mansfield Park does Jane Austen force us to experience the discomfort of a Romantic universe presided over by the potent charm of a heroine who was not made to be loved."
Austen has often criticized by writers such as Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain and Elizabeth Barrett Browning for an excessive gentility and a lack of Sturm und Drang, but Juliet McMaster wrote "In our heart of hearts...don't we know that a full reading of a Jane Austen novel is a very moving experience, as well as an intellectually delectable one?" McMastern noted that Austen often used understatement to convey dramatic emotions in her novels where here characters feel powerful emotions while engaging in apparently banal behavior and dialogue. As an example of her thesis, McMaster used the expedition into the "little wilderness" of the Sotherton park, where Mary Crawford, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price debated the merits of an ecclesiastical vs. a legal career. McMaster noted through the exchanges are light-hearted, the issues are serious as Edmund is asking Mary to love him for who he is while she indicates she will only marry him if he pursues a more lucrative career in the law. To subtly press her point, Austen provided conscious echoes in her description of the Souerton park with its "sepentining" pathways of the Wandering Wood where the Redcrosse Knight gets lost in The Faerie Queene. Just as the Redcrosse Knight, the novice knight who symbolizes both England and Christian faith is lost within the dangerous and confusing Wandering Wood where he nearly abandons his true love Una for the seductive witch Duessa, so too is Edmund, the would-be Church of England minister is lost within the moral maze of Sotherton park. Later, when Fanny indicates that she is tired, and Edmund takes her arm to provide support and Mary extends him her arm, he expresses his amazement at how light her arm is. McMaster commented that the scene bears no resemblance to anything written by Austen's critic D. H. Lawrence who provided loving descriptions of what he called "That exquisite and immortal moment of a man's entry into the woman of his desire", but she argues that Edmund "...registers, and within the bounds of polite converse, expresses the trill he feels at this physical contact with Mary".. In this regard, McMaster wrote that the common criticism that it is unbelievable how Edmund transfers his affections from Mary to Fanny so quickly is not warranted as the "subsurface movement" of the novel had been "Edumund's unconscious courtship of Fanny, which is concurrent with his deliberate courtship of Mary".
Marking 200 years after this novel was published, Paula Byrne, author of a biography of Jane Austen, wrote a perspective on it, a novel she loves, while aware that Mansfield Park is not generally viewed as she sees it. The subtitle to Byrne's article was "Ignore its uptight reputation – Mansfield Park, published 200 years ago this month, seethes with sex and explores England’s murkiest corners". The title of the novel and the family estate may well reflect Lord Mansfield, whose decision as Lord Chief Justice in a court case led to the end of slavery in Britain itself, and the name of Aunt Norris may be drawn from Robert Norris, the opposite of the judge, as Norris was "an infamous slave trader and a byword for pro-slavery sympathies." Sir Thomas Bertram's home, Mansfield Park, was "a newly built property, a house erected on the proceeds of the British slave trade." It is not an old structure like the one belonging to Rushworth, or the estate homes described in other of Austen's novels, like Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice or Domwell Abbey in Emma. Byrne finds this novel bold in its humour, containing "Austen’s filthiest joke, when she makes a pun about sodomy in the Navy: “My home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices, I saw enough. Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”" She posits that the heroine Fanny Price is "the filter through which we view the mesmerising Crawfords", the Londoners who bring their lively, seductive ways to the countryside. She finds this novel to be "pioneering because it is a novel about meritocracy." The novel is an exploration of the role of parents in raising their children and forming their moral characters, as shown by Sir Thomas in his changing view of his niece: he first feels that she is not on the same level as his daughters, but at the end, he acknowledges her advantages in starting from hardship in her parents' home, recognizing his failings in guiding his own daughters. "At the centre of the book is a displaced child with an unshakeable conscience. A true heroine."
In chapter 21, the slave trade is briefly mentioned as a failed topic of conversation upon the return of Sir Thomas Bertram to his home and family. Austen does not mention the Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade, though not slavery itself, in the British Empire. The Act passed four years before she started the novel and was the culmination of a long campaign by abolitionists, notably William Wilberforce. Slavery was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833.
The American literary critic Edward Said discussed the novel in his 1993 book Culture and Imperialism. Said was relentless in his attacks against Austen, depicting her as a racist and supporter of slavery whose books should be condemned rather than celebrated. Said's thesis that Austen wrote Mansfield Park to glorify slavery is a popular one with the editor of a Penguin edition of Mansfield Park writing in the introduction that Said had established Mansfield Park “as part of the structure of an expanding imperialist venture". At another point, however, Said 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."
Gabrielle White 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. Windschuttle in an article criticizing Said's thesis wrote: “The idea that, because Jane Austen presents one plantation-owning character, of whom heroine, plot and author all plainly disapprove, she thereby becomes a handmaiden of imperialism and slavery, is to misunderstand both the novel and the biography of its author, who was an ardent opponent of the slave trade”. Likewise, the British author Ibn Warraq accused Said of a “most egregious misreading” of Mansfield Park and condemned him for a “lazy and unwarranted reading of Jane Austen”, arguing that Said had completely distorted Mansfield Park to give Austen views that she did not hold to score political points. Warraq argued that because Said was attempting to prove in Culture and Imperialism that Western civilization was rotten to the core and that all Westerners had always been evil, racist imperialists from the beginning of the West right up to the present that he was prejudiced against Austen in a way that was totally unfair and lacked even a “coherent thesis” against Austen.
While Mansfield Park was ignored by reviewers at first publication, it was a great success with the public. The first printing "sold out within six months" and in 1816 she had a second printing which also sold out. Austen's earnings on this novel were larger than for any of her other novels published in her lifetime. This novel received its first positive critical review in 1821, in a review of all of Jane Austen's published novels by Richard Whately, who specifically noted the character of Fanny Price. Regency critics praised the novel's wholesome morality; Jane Austen's mother thought Fanny "insipid", though other unpublished private reviewers liked the character, as Jane Austen collected comments by those in her social circle about Fanny Price.
In the late 20th century, Mansfield Park raised controversy among reviewers. In 1974, the American literacy critic Joel Weinsheimer wrote that Mansfield Park was of all the Austen novels "...perhaps the most profound; certainly it is the most problematic". Many modern readers find it difficult to sympathise with Fanny's timidity and her disapproval of the theatricals difficult, finding her "priggish, passive, naive and hard to like." They reject the idea made explicit in the final chapter that she is a better person for the relative privations of her childhood. 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 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."
Margaret Kirkham in her essay titled "Feminist Irony and the Priceless Heroine of Mansfield Park" has commented directly on the positions of both Rousseau and Wollstonecraft regarding the type of feminism Austen explores in the depiction of Fanny Price. For Kirkham, these two views are highly contrasting with Rousseau portraying the role of women as limited by "feminine" frailties which, counter-intuitively, Rousseau encourages women to exaggerate in order to affectionately manipulate their effect on men as he states in his book Emile: "So far from being ashamed of their weakness, they glory in it; their tender muscles make no resistance; they affect to be incapable of lifting the smallest burdens, and would blush to be thought robust and strong."[page needed] Wollstonecraft for her part agreed with Austen's perspective contrary to both Rousseau and his followers in this regard such as Fordyce whom Kirkham criticizes stating: "I know not any comment that can be made seriously on this curious passage (from Fordyce and Rousseau), and I could produce many similar ones; and some so very sentimental, that I have heard rational men used the word indecent when they mentioned them with disgust." Kirkham, siding with Austen, was critical of the "feminine" frailties school represented by Rousseau and Fordyce.[page needed]
- 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.
- Gay, Penny (2005). Todd, Janet, ed. Historical and cultural context: Pastimes. Jane Austen in Context. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 341. ISBN 978-0-521-82644-0.
- Selwyn, David (1999). Jane Austen and Leisure. The Hambledon Press. p. 271. ISBN 978-1852851712.
- Roberts, Warren Jane Austen and the French Revolution, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979 pages 34–35
- Roberts, Warren Jane Austen and the French Revolution, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979 page 34
- Roberts, Warren Jane Austen and the French Revolution, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979 page 34
- Halperin, John "Jane Austen's Lovers" pages 7 19–736 from Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Vol. 25, No. 4, Autumn, 1985 page 730.
- Halperin, John "Jane Austen's Lovers" pages 7 19–736 from Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Vol. 25, No. 4, Autumn, 1985 pages 731.
- Halperin, John "Jane Austen's Lovers" pages 7 19–736 from Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Vol. 25, No. 4, Autumn, 1985 page 731.
- Halperin, John "Jane Austen's Lovers" pages 7 19–736 from Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Vol. 25, No. 4, Autumn, 1985 page 731.
- Halperin, John "Jane Austen's Lovers" pages 7 19–736 from Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 Vol. 25, No. 4, Autumn, 1985 page 731.
- Weinsheimer, Joel (September 1974). "Mansfield Park: Three Problems". Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 29 (2): 185.
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