Though Jane Austen was writing at a time when Gothic potboilers such as Ann Ward Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto were all the rage, she never got carried away by romance in her own novels. In Austen's ordered world, the passions that ruled Gothic fiction would be horridly out of place; marriage was, first and foremost, a contract, the bedrock of polite society. Certain rules applied to who was eligible and who was not, how one courted and married and what one expected afterwards. To flout these rules was to tear at the basic fabric of society, and the consequences could be terrible. Each of the six novels she completed in her lifetime are, in effect, comic cautionary tales that end happily for those characters who play by the rules and badly for those who don't. In Mansfield Park, for example, Austen gives us Fanny Price, a poor young woman who has grown up in her wealthy relatives' household without ever being accepted as an equal. The only one who has truly been kind to Fanny is Edmund Bertram, the younger of the family's two sons. Into this Cinderella existence comes Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary, who are visiting relatives in the neighborhood. Soon Mansfield Park is given over to all kinds of gaiety, including a daring interlude spent dabbling in theatricals. Young Edmund is smitten with Mary, and Henry Crawford woos Fanny. Yet these two charming, gifted, and attractive siblings gradually reveal themselves to be lacking in one essential Austenian quality: principle. Without good principles to temper passion, the results can be disastrous, and indeed, Mansfield Park is rife with adultery, betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships. But this is a comedy, after all, so there is also a requisite happy ending and plenty of Austen's patented gentle satire along the way. Describing the switch in Edmund's affections from Mary to Fanny, she writes: "I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that everyone may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people." What does not vary is the pleasure with which new generations come to Jane Austen.
The heroine of Mansfield Park is by some considered insipid, Fanny Price the eldest daughter of a mother from a wealthy family who chose to marry for love and live in poverty is at the tender age of 10 sent to live with her mother's wealthy sister and her family. The Bertrams have two sons and two daughters and the youngest son treats her with kindness. She is raised as was the custom not on equal terms with her cousins but as her position dictated, that she should be at all times agreeable to the family and to know her place. She is constantly reminded of this by her mother's other sister Mrs Norris. The plot itself comes to life with the appearance of the Crawfords, both of whom are of dubious character and seek to engage various members of the family. Fanny remains placid and compliant throughout, yet she is always steadfast to what she believes to be right and proper. She is invaluable in her companionship to her Aunt Bertram and refuses to join in when her cousins and the Crawfords decide to stage A Lover's Vows in her uncle's absence, knowing that he would dislike it. Miss Crawford befriends the downtrodden Fanny and Mr Crawford is attracted to her. Fanny does in the end find the happiness she seeks and her younger sister Susan is sent to Mansfield to take her place. Maria her proud cousin falls victim to her own indulged upbringing and Fanny's sister Susan takes her place as Mrs Bertrams companion. Recent readers of Mansfield Park have sought to highlight what they believe Jane Austen did not, the fact that the lifestyle of Mansfield Park was dependent on the slave trade. Mr Bertram we are told has a sugar plantation in Antigua and the only reference to slavery is that of a shy question posed by Fanny on his return from his estate there.--Submitted by Anonymous
Fanny Price is a lucky girl. Or such is the opinion of her aunt Norris. Surely she was fortunate in being rescued from her mother’s foolishly self-inflicted poverty (all for love, pshaw!) and transferred to the genteel Mansfield Park, home to her honourable uncle Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife. Of course Fanny’s stay at Mansfield Park was only temporary until childless Mr & Mrs Norris could care for her, but Mr Norris you see, couldn’t bear children just at that moment… Thus Fanny grows up with her cousins Thomas, Edmund, Maria and Julia. Thomas turns out a wasteful son, Maria and Julia to have a short concentration span. Only Edmund and Fanny seem to be able to keep their heads focused, but they are never asked for their (sensible) opinions. When Sir Thomas has business to attend to in the West Indies, he leaves with his eldest son, in an attempt to keep him away from his nasty friends. As frugal but oblivious Mrs Norris virtually takes over the household from her disinterested sister, Mr Rushworth and Mr and Miss Crawford come into view. Clueless Mr Rushworth is rich, so he takes what is his due in Maria Bertram, while Mr Crawford becomes too interested in engaged Maria and Julia at once… As the young people decide to stage a passionate play, they are on course for all kinds of moral mischief, avoided in the nick of time by the return of Sir Thomas, but long discerned by Edmund and Fanny. Then, though, Mr Crawford seems to suddenly get more interested in Fanny, and Edmund in Crawford’s sister… But does Crawford genuinely love Fanny or is it only a game to him? It is hard to say, until the long-suspected drama unfolds in London and Edmund and Fanny… they will emerge from the obscurity they were always held in.--Submitted by kiki1982.
One of the things I did not really get in Mansfield Park was what the big deal was about putting on the play. Sure, Sir Thomas would be annoyed to find his library and billiards room had been turned into a stage and green room, but Edmund's and Fanny's reservations about the play go further than that. Lady Bertram, Mrs Norris, Mrs Grant and Dr Grant don't seem to have a problem with it. Lovers' Vows does not seem like a very scandalous play. Edmund and Fanny's sense of propriety just seems incredible. I wonder whether Jane Austen was just being too subtle for me, or that the 200 year time gap was too hard to bridge. One interesting point about it was that although Fanny resists being drawn into it, her resistance is finally overcome. That makes it more uncertain that Fanny will resist Henry Crawford's attentions later on.
I reached the end of volume 2. I liked the note that Fanny returned to Mary Crawford regarding the proposal of marriage from her brother. It does not make sense; I read it two or three times and it was not coherent, but Frank and Mary Crawford would understand what it meant. It is still in character:*she is polite, she is grateful for what Frank has done for her brother, and she does give a reason for her refusal, albeit in a not very coherent way. It's something I've noticed with Austen before. She's very good at her secret channels of information. Her characters can communicate because they understand each others' minds. "I am much obliged to you, my dear Miss Crawford, for your kind congratulations, as far as they relate to my dearest William. The rest of your note I know means nothing, but I am so unequal to anything of the sort, that I hope you will excuse my begging you to take no further notice. I have seen too much of Mr Crawford not to understand his manners; if he understood me as well, he would I dare say behave differently. I do not know what I write, but it would be a great favour of you never to mention the subject again. With thanks for the honour of your note, I remain, dear Miss Crawford, & c. & c."
In volume 2 chapter 5, regarding Henry Crawford: With a significant smile, which made Fanny quite hate him, he said, "So! Rushworth and his fair bride are at Brighton I understand - Happy man!" What does the significant smile mean? Has he shagged Maria Bertram? Fanny thinks Henry Crawford has toyed with the affections of both Maria and Julia Bertram. I find it difficult to say for sure. Fanny seems to think that Mr Crawford deliberately messes young ladies around. Is he a bit of a sadist? Surely, a young gentleman could be charming to young ladies without being expected to commit himself to marriage, even then.
Early in the book, Sir Bertram has to sail to Antigua to sort out his plantation. The overseers weren't whipping the slaves hard enough or something. Or maybe his steward was thinking why am I making this man rich? He doesn't have to do anything, I'm doing all the work. Sir Bertram was there for a year so he must have had quite a bit of sorting out to do. Maybe he introduced a daily fifteen minute stand up meeting at which all the overseers explained what they were going to achieve that day or the obstacles that might hold them up. Anyway Sir Bertram takes his elder son with him, but leaves Edmund behind. At first I thought well Tom's going to inherit the estate one day, so it makes sense that he brings along Tom to learn the business. But then I thought perhaps Sir Bertram would be reluctant to take Edmund along because he is such a high minded young man, he might kick up a big fuss when confronted with the reality of the family's source of wealth. It's difficult to say; maybe Edmund would have been fine with it.
Why is Fanny Price so easily tired? In chapter 10, she walks less than half a mile in a wood and has to sit down and have a rest. Her cousin Edmund says she gets tired after any exercise except horse riding. I hope she doesn't have some ghastly wasting disease.
In chapter 10, Mr Rushworth asks Fanny if she is an admirer of Mr Crawford, and she says she does not find him handsome. Mr Rushworth then goes on to say how could such an undersized man be considered handsome. Mr Crawford is about 5'8". I thought that was quite tall for back then. I suspect the upper class was taller than everyone else because they were better fed. They must have seemed like a race of giants to most people. See link image 4.Thomas Hardy was only 5'1". H.G. Well was 5'5". Charles Dickens was 5'7". William Makepeace Thackery was 6'3", but I think he came from a relatively wealthy family. His father had been a civil servant in India, which seems to have been a pretty good way of getting rich, if Vanity Fair is any guide.
It was interesting to read Miss Crawford's low opinion of the office of clergyman in chapter 11. I have often wondered whether the Church of England was a racket in the 18th and 19th Century. Not every clergyman earned a lot of money, but quite a number did, comparative to the general population. It was a sort of parachute profession for younger sons of rich landowners. It struck me while re-reading Bleak House when Richard Carstone cannot decide what he wants to do, that there were not actually very many professions a man of that class could do. The only options were the navy, the army, law, the clergy and medicine. I am not sure whether medicine was an acceptable profession in Jane Austen's time for a gentleman. I think commerce was also acceptable, but you couldn't be a shopkeeper or a tradesman. Except for the army, all those other professions took a lot of study. I am not sure how much study it took to get into the navy, but I think they had to know quite a bit of trigonometry in order to know how to navigate, and I think they had to join up as boys, so Edmund might already be too old. I think all Jane Austen's brothers were either in the navy or the clergy, and her father was a clergyman. So why is Miss Crawford so surprised that Edmund plans to become a clergyman? I was also slightly surprised that Miss Crawford thinks that all clergymen have to do is read out a sermon on Sundays. Presumably, she also thinks they perform christenings, weddings and funerals. I am not sure what the clergy's duties were, but I get the impression many were widely involved in society.
Mansfield Park is probably the least favourite of Austen's novels for some and, certainly in the past, the most loved for others. I'm reading it again at the moment. The character of Fanny is not a problem for me at all - I warm to the Cinderella, Ugly Duckling aspect. Just thought Mrs Norris and the Bertram sisters are Cinder's stepmother and sisters, though I'm not sure Austen would have known that version of the story. There are other deeply disturbing aspects though, not least Fanny preferring Mansfield Park to her mother's home in Portsmouth. OK, Mrs Price is Lady Bertram's sister and although she works her socks off, there is the same selfishness and lack of consideration at work. What makes Mansfield preferable is to a large extent that it is supported by wealth, and wealth based on slave labour at that. Any other ideas? Is Mrs Norris the nastiest woman Austen created? (I can think of a self important busy body she reminds me of, who some think is a hard working treasure and some think is an utter menace.)
Dear all Don't you feel that Mansfield park ended abruptly..The story was going on smoothly when suddenly fanny gets the news that Charles and maria have eloped..Even at that time, Mary Crawford tends to take her brother's side.. Then in quick succession Edward breaks up with Mary whom he admired ardently and marries his sister-like-cousin fanny.. What might have been the mood and mental framework of Jane while picturing this and ending the novel in an imbroglio way..??:out: Kindly comment... Thanks for your time in advance...
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