Mansfield Park

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Mansfield Park
All text title page
Title page of the first edition
Author Jane Austen
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Thomas Egerton
Publication date
July 1814
Preceded by Pride and Prejudice
Followed by Emma

Mansfield Park is the third published novel by Jane Austen and was completed between February 1811 and 1813 while Austen was living at Chawton Cottage. The novel details the life of its main heroine Fanny Price from childhood through to her marriage with a close childhood friend. Mansfield Park was first published in May 1814 by Thomas Egerton. The publication of the novel was well received by the public and a second edition was published in 1816 by John Murray still within Austen's lifetime.

Mansfield Park is considered to be Austen's most controversial novel as it mentions the British slave trade and touches upon the issue of the ill-gains made financially by Sir Thomas in the West Indies. Sir Thomas is the uncle and benefactor of Fanny Price in the novel. The late Edward Said criticized the novel for not adding clarity to its critique of Sir Thomas for the profits which he and his son had reaped from his plantation holdings in the West Indies. Austen eventually leaves Sir Thomas's son as an invalid suffering physically from illnesses acquired on Sir Thomas's plantation, while Sir Thomas is left at the end of Austen's novel as bereft of being able to make any rational or social sense of his general family whatsoever. Only Fanny Price appears to emerge relatively unscathed with a marriage proposal which she holds dear to her heart and to her esteem, in Said's view. Other critics have seen Mansfield Park as less politically controversial, with Austen offering a clear study of the interior life of its main character Fanny Price as she faces domestic hardships and setbacks which challenge the still undeveloped aspects of her personality and estimable character as portrayed by Austen.

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.

Plot summary[edit]

The events of the story are put in motion by the marriages of three sisters. Lady Bertram married extremely well to the wealthy baronet Sir Thomas Bertram, while Mrs Norris married a clergyman, who was given the living at the local parsonage by Sir Thomas; this allows the Norrises to live comfortably, yet far below the opulence of the Bertrams. The third sister, Mrs Price, married a naval lieutenant who was shortly afterwards wounded in battle and left with a meager pension, scarcely enough to support their eventual household of nine children. Mrs Norris, always wishing to appear virtuous, proposes that Lady Bertram take one of the children to live with her at Mansfield Park. They choose the eldest daughter Fanny Price, who is the protagonist of the novel. Thus, at age 10, Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives at Mansfield Park.

Fanny's new life is not as she might wish. Her energetic Aunt Norris, 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 the bother and expense Fanny causes. Aunt Norris 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 as an unwanted poor relation. Only Edmund shows 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, whom she sees as beneath 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, Tom Bertram, the spendthrift son, incurs a large debt through irresponsible spending and gambling. To pay these debts, Sir Thomas is forced to sell the living of the parsonage, recently freed up by the death of Uncle Norris, to the well-to-do clergyman Dr Grant, even though Sir Thomas had hoped to keep this lifetime position for his younger son Edmund.

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 the experience will sober him. 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 man of ₤12,000 a year, but rather 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 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, she finds a place at Mansfield parsonage with her half-sister Mrs Grant. The Crawfords are quite a bit wealthier than the Grants, so Mary fears her new situation 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 romantic interest in Tom, who is the heir of Mansfield Park. She is disappointed, though, when she learns that Edmund wants to be a clergyman, which she sees as dull and unambitious. She likes him enough, though, that she is willing to continue their relationship, although Edmund worries that her often cynical conversation may betray a deeper lack of proper principles.

Fanny fears that Mary's charms and attractions have blinded Edmund to her flaws. (Also, of course, Fanny 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 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 flirting indelicately.

Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr Yates, the young people decide to put on an amateur performance of Elizabeth Inchbald's play Lovers' Vows. However, Edmund and Fanny both object, believing Sir Thomas would disapprove and feeling that the subject matter of the play, which includes adultery and illegitimacy, is morally compromising. 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, from whom Maria had imminently expected a marriage proposal, instead takes his leave, 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 to console her loss of Henry, and they honeymoon in Brighton, taking Julia with them. 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 her indifference piques Henry to fall in love with Fanny instead. To further his suit, he uses his family connections to help Fanny's brother William obtain a commission as a naval lieutenant, to her great joy and gratitude. However, when Henry proposes marriage, Fanny rejects him out of hand, partly because she disapproves of his moral character, and also because she loves someone else. Sir Thomas is astonished and indignant at her refusal, since it is an extremely advantageous match for a poor girl like her. He reproaches her for ingratitude, and believing it is mere timidity or willfulness on Fanny's part, encourages Henry to persevere.

To bring Fanny to her senses, Sir Thomas sends her for a visit to her parents in Portsmouth, hoping that their impecunious circumstances will awaken her to the value of 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 harmonious environment at Mansfield. Henry visits to persuade her that he has changed his frivolous ways and is worthy of her affection. Although Fanny still refuses 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 met at a party and rekindled their flirtation, which led to an affair. An indiscreet servant made the affair public, and the story has ended up in the newspapers. The exposure results in Maria running away with Henry. Mr Rushworth sues Maria for divorce, and the proud Bertram family is devastated. Even worse, 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 flighty friend Mr Yates.

In the midst of this crisis, Fanny returns to Mansfield Park with her sister Susan, and she is 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, and only regrets that it was discovered. Her main concern is to cover 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, leaving Edmund to inherit Mansfield Park. Edmund, who had idealised Mary, is devastated to discover at last the sordidness of her true principles. He breaks off the relationship, returns to Mansfield, and goes ahead with plans to be ordained a priest in the Church of England.

While he despairs 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 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, turns out to be a respectable husband after all. Henry Crawford refuses to marry Maria, who is banished by her family to live "in another country",[1] where she is joined by her Aunt Norris. Fanny becomes the effective moral centre of Mansfield Park.


Mansfield Park - family tree (EN) by shakko.jpg
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 [...].".[2]
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.

Literary reception[edit]

While Mansfield Park was ignored by reviewers at first publication, it was a great success with the public. All copies were sold within six months, and Austen's earnings on this novel were larger than for any of her other novels.[3][4][5] Regency critics praised the novel's wholesome morality; Jane Austen's mother thought Fanny "insipid", though other unpublished private reviewers liked the character.[6]

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".[7] Many modern readers find it difficult to sympathise with Fanny's timidity and her disapproval of the theatricals difficult, and reject the idea made explicit in the final chapter that she is a better person for the relative privations of her childhood. Other readers have found her priggish and unlikeable.[8] 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."[9] 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. A major debate concerns whatever the character of Price is meant to be ironical, a parody of the wholesome heroines that were so popular in Regency novels.[7] William H. Magee wrote in 1966 that "irony pervades if (it) does not dominate the presentation of Fanny Price."[7] By contrast, Andrew Wright argued in 1968 that Price "is presented straight-forwardly, without any contradiction of any kind".[7] Lionel Trilling maintained that Austen created Price as "irony directed against irony itself".[7] 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.[10] 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.[10] 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."[10] 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".[10] 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."[10]


Austen does not mention the Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade, though not slavery, 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 death rate on the slave plantations in the Caribbean was so high owing to yellow fever and malaria that abolitionists believed that abolishing the slave trade would be enough to end slavery in the West Indies as the plantation owners would not be able to stay in business without fresh importations of slaves from Africa. Additionally slaves were considered property, and the abolitionists believed correctly that Parliament was far more likely to vote to abolish the slave trade rather than slavery.[11]

The Said thesis[edit]

The American literary critic Edward Said implicated the novel in notable literary controversy in the 1990s. In Said's 1993 book Culture and Imperialism, he implicated 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. 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".[12] 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."[13]

Said argued controversially in Culture and Imperalism that there were widespread ideas about Britain and the rest of the world in the 19th century that tended to glorify "our world" by devaluing the world of others.[14] Said maintained that the contradiction between the warm, humanist world of Britain that was best examplifed by Austen's idealised, bucolic English countryside vs. the brutal and rapacious exploitation of other people's countries in the British Empire depended upon a certain geographical understanding of morality. Such an understanding would have been impermissible at home being all too permissible in the colonies of the British Empire.[15] Said stated that this spatial way of understanding the world turns up with "inert regularity" in British literature from the 16th century onwards, and formed a "vital part" of British national identity.[16] Said argued that Austen embraced and promoted this spatial understanding of the world in Mansfield Park.[17] Said argued that the play which is about to be staged as Austen narrated into the novel, of which the main character Fanny Price disapproves of, reflected the opposition between the "indecent" culture of France as represented by the lewd play vs. the "decent" culture of English domesticity as represented by Fanny Price.[18] Likewise, Said persisted his criticism that without the paterfamilias of Sir Thomas to provide the order necessary to underpin English domesticity, that his family would fall apart with the young people engaging in flirtatious behavior and the staging described in Austen's novel of the indecent play which they were about to produce in Sir Thomas's home for their own entertainment.[19] Said maintained that when Sir Thomas returned from his plantation in Antigua, which he tried to administer as a good master, he likewise restores order to Mansfield Park.[20] Said argued that the reader is left with no doubt that Sir Thomas was also able to restore order at his slave plantation in Antigua just as he did upon his return to Mansfield Park, and that Austen created the character of Sir Thomas as the archetypal good master just as competent at running his estate in the English countryside as he was in exploiting his slaves in the Caribbean.[21]

Said admitted that Austen does not write much in the book about the slave plantation owned by Sir Thomas, but he contended that Austen wrote in such a manner that she expected the reader to "assume" that the Bertram family's wealth was due to profits produced by the sugar plantation worked by their African slaves. Said argued that this reflected Austen's assumption that this was just the natural order of the world.[22] Said wrote that Austen was "not a neutral" writer, but instead a "politically charged" writer who depicted the "world out there" as both a place of no great significance and a place that provided the wealth that supported the Bertram family. Said argued that this reflected a thoroughly imperialistic understanding of the world.[23] Said's negative criticism stated that because the Bertrams owed their wealth to a slave plantation in Antigua, that Austen wrote the novel to glorify those families who become so rich in the 18th and early 19th centuries thanks to their investments in the sugar plantations of the West Indies.[24]

The Counter Thesis[edit]

Said's thesis that Austen was an apologist for slavery and wrote Mansfield Park as a justification of slavery received much controversial attention when the 1999 film version of Mansfield Park by the Canadian director Patricia Rozema presented the Bertram family as morally corrupt and degenerate because Sir Thomas owned slaves in the West Indies. This was asserted as an indictment, by implication, of the entire British elite, in super-adding a scene that was not in Austen's book where Fanny Price is depicted in the film as hearing terrible cries from a ship off the coast and learns that the ship is a slave ship bringing in its human cargo to Portsmouth.[25] The Australian historian Keith Windschuttle criticised Rozema for this scene, noting that slaves were carried from Africa to the Caribbean on the infamous “Middle Passage” and that slave ships would not have been operating off the British coast.[25] British slave ships traveled to West Africa, especially the ominously named Slave Coast in what is now modern Nigeria, where the slavers bartered goods like guns to in exchange for slaves. There were other regions in West Africa where slave trading was also an important economic activity. The Ashanti were a fierce warrior people living in what was called the Gold Coast by the Europeans and is today modern Ghana who regularly enslaved fellow Africans to sell to the Europeans in order to obtain guns and other European products, to fight their wars in order to enslave even more Africans.[26] The slaves were then carried on the slave ships on the "Middle Passage" to the West Indies. After selling the slaves, the ships returned to Britain loaded with sugar and tobacco, completing the Triangular trade. Thus, Windschuttle maintained that Rozema had a very poor understanding of both history and geography to have slave ships operating in the English Channel ca. 1800, and that Austen would never had made such mistakes.[25] The case of Somerset v Stewart in 1772 had declared slavery illegal within the United Kingdom (but not the rest of the British Empire) and that any slave who entered the United Kingdom was free. The case made it pointless for someone to import slaves into Britain around 1800 as the slaves would have been freed if they had landed. Windschuttle further argued that a major part of the plot of Mansfield Park was the disintegration of Sir Thomas Bertram's family after he goes away on an extended business trip. Since Austen set Mansfield Park in England ca. 1810, she needed a reason to have Bertram away on an extended trip, and since Britain is a small country and the Napoleonic Wars were raging in Europe, she had Bertram visit a slave plantation he owned in Antigua. Thus, Windschutte maintained that contra Said, Austen made Bertram a plantation owner not because she was a racist who supported slavery (to which Austen was in fact opposed), but rather because she needed a believable reason to have Bertram away from Mansfield Park for a lengthy period of time.

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.[9] 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.[27] 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”.[28] 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.[13] 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.[13]

General literary criticism[edit]

Significant literary criticism has been made upon Mansfield Park concerning the role which feminism plays in Austen's characterization of the main character depicted in Fanny Price. 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."[29] 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.[29]


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.

Even the game of speculation has been viewed as a symbol, a "metaphor for the game Mary Crawford is playing, with Edmund as stake", according to David Selwyn.[30]

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:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Another country" likely refers to another county of England, since the novel is set during wartime, when Napoleon controlled most of the continent.
  2. ^ p.3
  3. ^ Le Faye, Deirdre (2014). Copeland, Edward; McMaster, Juliet, eds. Chronology of Jane Austen’s Life. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. xxiii. ISBN 978-0-521-74650-2. 
  4. ^ Sutherland, Kathryn (2005). Todd, Janet, ed. Critical Response, early. Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0521688536. [full citation needed]
  5. ^ Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 236, 240–241, 315 note 2. ISBN 0-679-44628-1. 
  6. ^ "Early opinions of Mansfield Park". Retrieved 16 May 2006. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Weinsheimer, Joel (September 1974). "Mansfield Park: Three Problems". Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 29 (2): 185. 
  8. ^ "Controversy over Fanny Price, from the AUSTEN-L mailing list". Retrieved 16 May 2006. 
  9. ^ a b Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 230. ISBN 0-679-44628-1. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Auerbach, Nina (1980). "Jane Austen's Dangerous Charm: Feeling As One Ought About Fanny Price". Persuasions. The Jane Austen Society of North America (2): 9–11. Retrieved 20 September 2016. 
  11. ^ Todd, Janet (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 34–35. ISBN 978-0-521-67469-0. 
  12. ^ Windschuttle, Keith (January 1999). "Edward Said's "Orientalism revisited"". The New Criterion. Retrieved 30 March 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c Warraq, Ibn (July 2007). "Jane Austen and Slavery". New English Review. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  14. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 pages 81-82.
  15. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 pages 82-83.
  16. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 83.
  17. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 84.
  18. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 84.
  19. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 84.
  20. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 pages 84-85.
  21. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 85.
  22. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 89.
  23. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 93.
  24. ^ Said, Edward Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage, 1994 page 94.
  25. ^ a b c Windschuttle, Keith (May 2000). "Rewriting The History Of The British Empire". The New Criterion. Retrieved 30 March 2016. 
  26. ^ Perry, James (2005). Arrogant Armies: Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them. Wiley & Sons. pp. 88–89, 91–96. ISBN 0-471-11976-8. 
  27. ^ Moody, Ellen (10 January 2003). "A Commentary on Brian Southam's exegesis in TLS (Times Literary Supplement)". Retrieved 19 December 2006. 
  28. ^ Windschuttle, Keith (January 2002). "The Cultural War on Western Civilization". The New Criterion. Retrieved 30 March 2016. 
  29. ^ a b Kirkham, Margaret (1983). Todd, Janet, ed. Feminist Irony and the Priceless Heroine of Mansfield Park. Jane Austen: New Perspectives. Women in Literature. Holmes and Meier Publishers. ISBN 978-0841908635. 
  30. ^ Selwyn, David (2005). Todd, Janet, ed. Consumer Goods. Jane Austen in Context. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 341?. ISBN 978-0521826440. 
  31. ^ MacAlpine, Fraser (2014). "Listen: Pre-fame Benedict Cumberbatch (and David Tennant) in Radio 4's Mansfield Park". BBC America. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  32. ^ Dooks, Brian (16 August 2006). "Historic hall to host Austen adaptation". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 16 August 2006. 
  33. ^ Quirke, Kieron (16 August 2011). "Mansfield Park, Arcola Theatre – Review". Evening Standard. Retrieved 19 August 2011. 
  34. ^ Stebbing, Eve (24 September 2012). "Mansfield Park, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds - Review". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 

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