Mansfield Park (novel)
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Mansfield Park is a novel by Jane Austen. It was written between 1812 and 1814 at Chawton Cottage, and published in July 1814 by the Mr. Egerton who had given to the world its two predecessors. When the novel reached a second edition, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who was also responsible for bringing out its successor, Emma. It is, perhaps, the most seriously disturbing of Austen's works.
The main character, Fanny Price, is sent at an early age from her poor family to live with her rich uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. She grows up with her four cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia, but is always treated as inferior to them; only Edmund shows her real kindness. Despite often being unhappy during her childhood, Fanny grows up with a strong sense of propriety and virtue, and remains closely attached to her brother William (possibly based on Jane Austen's brother Frank), who has begun a career in the Royal Navy. Over time, Fanny's gratitude for Edmund's kindness secretly grows into love.
Fanny's other aunt, Mrs Norris, is a miserly busybody, the widow of a pastor who had a living through Sir Thomas. She is eager to affiliate herself to the high social standing of the Bertrams and distance herself from those she regards as lower than herself, such as Fanny and Fanny's family. Consequently, she spoils the Bertram children (especially Maria) while putting Fanny down and verbally battering her. Lady Bertram is an indolent, bored woman who takes little interest in her children or her estate, primarily spending her time in a chair with her lapdog, pug. Sir Thomas tries to correct the influence of Mrs Norris on his children, but only succeeds in setting himself up as a severe patriach from whom they become accustomed to conceal their true feelings and opinions. Maria and Julia end up vain and convinced of their own worth simply by dint of being beautiful, accomplished women of consequence, whilst Tom is an irresponsible partygoer and gambler. Only Edmund survives his upbringing with his sense of virtue unscathed.
The bulk of the action of the book takes place while Sir Thomas is away for two years in Antigua, dealing with problems on his plantation there. The romantic entanglements begin after the arrival of two siblings, Mr and Miss Crawford (Henry and Mary), to visit their sister Mrs Grant, who is the wife of the inhabitant of Mansfield Park parsonage. The real reason they have left, however, is that the relative they were living with, a retired Admiral, has taken a mistress into the house, which has a negative impact on Mary. Mary Crawford and Edmund begin to form an attachment, though Edmund often worries that she displays a lack of correct manners and worryingly irreverent opinions, particularly towards his chosen vocation of clergyman. She feels that that is not a grand enough profession for him, and that clergymen are dull. She wishes he would go into a new profession, and shows a subtle desire that his older brother Tom be out of the way so that Edmund can inherit Mansfield Park. All is phrased in such a light, joking tone, that these comments of hers cannot be taken seriously, and Mary herself is so engaging and charming, particularly because she goes out of her way to befriend Fanny, that one's overall impression of her is positive. The growing affection between Mary and Edmund grieves Fanny, who not only fears to lose him but feels that love is blinding Edmund to deep flaws in Miss Crawford's character. Mr Crawford meanwhile sports with the affections of both Bertram sisters, despite the fact that Maria is already engaged to the rather dull, but very rich, Mr. Rushworth.
On Sir Thomas's return, he finds the young people in the midst of a grand scheme to put on Elizabeth Inchbald's Lovers' Vows, a play (considered an inappropriate activity for gently born women to participate in, particularly this play, and Sir Thomas had explicitly forbidden this kind of activity in the home, which in and of itself should have been sufficient to stifle the plans. But the production is ultimately opposed only by Fanny. In particular, the play provides a pretext for Mr. Crawford and Maria to act in ways towards each other that skirt the edges of propriety). His arrival causes the play to be aborted. Mr Crawford leaves, and Maria is crushed. Her marriage to Mr Rushworth goes ahead, despite the jealousy that had been engendered in him by her behaviour with Mr Crawford, and they leave on honeymoon, taking Julia with them. In the wake of the incident of the play, Fanny's uncle notices how she has been slighted and she becomes of more consequence to the family and her uncle shows her much greater affection than previously. When Mr Crawford returns to Mansfield Park after an absence, he is bored and decides that, to pass the time, he will make Fanny fall in love with him. However, her genuine gentleness and kindness cause this plan to backfire, and he falls in love with her. But when he proposes, her knowledge of his previous improper behaviour towards her cousins, as well as her existing attachment to Edmund, cause her to reject him. The Bertrams are dismayed at this, as it is an extremely advantageous match; Sir Thomas rebukes her for insubordination and ingratitude. But Fanny holds her ground, knowing that she has acted correctly (she cannot bring herself to implicate Maria by explaining her reasons).
Sir Thomas contrives a plan to send Fanny back to her family's shabby home for a few months, so that she might realise that a rich husband is a very useful thing to have. Her family is indeed in wretched circumstances, with a large number of children and very improper, profligate behavior. Her father is a disabled navy veteran on half pay, and her mother is disorganized and overwhelmed. She does little to check the improper behavior of the children, and Fanny tries to do what she can to help her younger sister, Susan, who is ill-treated. Mr. Crawford comes to visit her there, to demonstrate that he has changed his ways and is now worthy of her affections (partly by helping to secure a promotion for Fanny's brother William), and this strategy begins to soften Fanny's attitude, though she is still far from accepting him. However, shortly after he leaves for London, Fanny begins to hear rumours of a scandal involving him and Maria; it later emerges that on resuming their acquaintance in London, Crawford and Maria began an affair that, when discovered, ends in an elopement and subsequent scandalous divorce. Because of this, an illness suffered by Tom (due to long periods of dissolute behavior involving drinking and gambling), and the elopement of Julia and Mr. Yates in the wake of Maria's affair being discovered, the situation at Mansfield Park is dire, and Fanny is recalled to be of both use and comfort to her aunt and uncle. Edmund becomes dismayed at Miss Crawford's laissez-faire attitude to Maria and her brother's improper behavior, as well as her lack of concern about Tom's illness (if he dies, Edmund becomes heir) and he breaks off relations with her, eventually coming to return Fanny's affections, and they marry.
Characters in "Mansfield Park"
- Fanny Price
- A daughter in a large family, who is sent to live with her mother's sisters at Mansfield Park. Her mother defied her family and married for love, to a naval officer. Her husband turned out to be an alcoholic, released from the navy on half pay, and Mrs. Price had to settle for a life far less comfortable than that of the rest of her family.
- Lady Bertram
- Sister of Fanny Price's mother who is married to the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram.
- Mrs Norris
- the widowed sister of Lady Bertram and Fanny Price's mother, who lives near Mansfield Park. Her late husband, Mr. Norris, was the previous parson at Mansfield Park.
- Sir Thomas Bertram
- The husband of Fanny's aunt, Lady Bertram. He owns the Mansfield Park estate, and a large plantation in Antigua, worked by slaves; it is the source of much of their wealth.
- Tom Bertram
- The elder son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. Tom is principally interested in carousing in London society and enjoying the pleasures of the theatre with his friend Mr Yates. Tom incurs large debts, which Sir Thomas is forced to pay off with the money that was to go to Edmund, Tom's younger brother. One celebratory journey leaves Tom with a fever.
- Edmund Bertram
- The younger son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. He aspires to become a clergyman. Young Edmund and Fanny find much in common with each other. Upon reaching adulthood, Edmund finds himself attracted to Miss Crawford.
- Maria Bertram
- The elder daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. She becomes engaged to Mr Rushworth, but then becomes emotionally involved with Mr Crawford.
- Julia Bertram
- The younger daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. She has strong feelings toward Mr Crawford, but soon learns he prefers her sister Maria, despite, or because of, her sister's engagement. She then begins a flirtation with Mr Yates.
- Mrs Grant
- The wife of the current parson at the Mansfield Park parsonage, and sister to Mr Henry Crawford and Miss Mary Crawford.
- Mr Henry Crawford
- The brother of Mrs Grant and Mary Crawford. A charming and eligible bachelor who shows interest in Maria, Julia and, later, Fanny.
- Miss Mary Crawford
- The sister of Mr. Crawford and Mrs. Grant, who takes a keen interest in Edmund Bertram in spite of his being a second son.
- Mr Rushworth
- a wealthy but foolish man who becomes engaged to Maria Bertram.
- Mr Yates
- Good friend of Tom Bertram. Tom and Yates carouse in London society and bring their love of the theatre to Mansfield Park. Yates also expresses interest in Miss Julia Bertram.
- William Price
- Fanny's brother, a naval officer, with whom she is very close.
- Susan Price
- Fanny's younger sister, with whom she is very close.
Literary significance & criticism
Mansfield Park is the most controversial and perhaps the least popular 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, just as Mr. Collins recommends that the Bennets should cast aside the sinful Lydia and Wickham."
The story contains much social satire, particularly at the expense of the two aunts. It is perhaps the most socially realistic Austen novel, with Fanny's family of origin, the Prices, coming from a much lower echelon of society than most Austen characters, and the novel's suggestion that the wealth of the Bertrams is derived from slavery in the West Indies. Edward Said implicated the novel in western culture's careless attitude towards slavery. Other critics, such as Gabrielle White, have argued against 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, points out 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.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Mansfield Park has been the subject of two 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.
- 2007: A new television adaptation, produced by Company Pictures and starring Billie Piper, is to be screened by the ITV1 network in the UK.
In the Harry Potter series of novels, Argus Filch is the caretaker at Hogwarts School. His prying cat (loathed by all the students) is named "Mrs Norris", for the busybody character in Mansfield Park.
The value of the novel as literature was a subject of contention between the two main characters in Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan, one of the characters being devoted to the work of Jane Austen, the other having read only an essay critical of the book by Lionel Trilling. The film is also an updated retelling of Mansfield Park with New York City as the backdrop.
It is widely believed that Cottesbrooke Hall and Village, Northamptonshire, famed for its exquisite architecture and home to the magnificent Woolavington Collection, is the pattern for Mansfield Park and its associated village.
- ^ Early opinions of Mansfield Park. Retrieved on 2006-05-16.
- ^ Controversy over Fanny Price, from the AUSTEN-L mailing list. Retrieved on 2006-05-16.
- ^ Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1997), p. 230.
- ^ Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1997), p. 140.
- ^ Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life, p.230.
- ^ Dooks, Brian. "Historic hall to host Austen adaptation", Yorkshire Post, 2006-08-16. Retrieved on 2006-08-16.
- Chronology/Calendar for Mansfield Park http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/mp.calendar.html
- Mansfield Park, available freely at Project Gutenberg
- GradeSaver study guide: Mansfield Park
- 1999 film adaptation
- 1983 British mini-series