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.
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