Mansfield Park is a novel by Jane Austen, written at Chawton Cottage between 1812 and 1814. It was published in July 1814 by Thomas Egerton, who published Jane Austen's two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When the novel reached a second edition, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who also published its successor, Emma.
The main character, Fanny Price, is a young girl from a poor family, raised by 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. He is also the most virtuous of the siblings: Maria and Julia are vain and spoiled, while Tom is an irresponsible gambler. Over time, Fanny's gratitude for Edmund's kindness secretly grows into love.
When the children are grown, the stern patriarch Sir Thomas leaves them for two years so he can go and deal with problems on his plantation in Antigua. The siblings Henry and Mary Crawford arrive at the village, which begins a series of romantic entanglements. Mary and Edmund begin to form an attachment, though Edmund often worries that, although her manners are fashionable, they hide a lack of firm principle. However, she is engaging and charming, and goes out of her way to befriend Fanny. Fanny fears that Mary has enchanted Edmund, and that love has blinded him to Mary's flaws. Henry Crawford plays with the affections of both Maria and Julia, despite the fact that Maria is already engaged to the dull, but very rich, Mr. Rushworth. Because Fanny is so little observed in the family circle, her presence is often overlooked and Maria and Mr Crawford are seen by Fanny several times in compromising situations.
Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr. Yates, the young people decide to put on Elizabeth Inchbald's play Lovers' Vows; Edmund and Fanny oppose the plan, believing that Sir Thomas will disapprove, but Edmund is eventually drawn into it, offering to play the part of Anhalt, who is the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford. In particular, the play provides a pretext for Henry and Maria to flirt in public. Sir Thomas arrives unexpectedly in the middle of a rehearsal, which ends the plan. Henry leaves, and Maria is crushed; she marries Mr. Rushworth and they leave for their honeymoon, taking Julia with them. Fanny's improved looks and pleasant temper endear her to Sir Thomas, who now pays more attention to her care.
Henry returns to Mansfield Park and decides to amuse himself by making Fanny fall in love with him. However, her genuine gentleness and kindness cause him to fall in love with her instead. When he proposes marriage, Fanny's knowledge of his improper flirtations with her cousins, as well as her continuing love for Edmund, cause her to reject him. The Bertrams are dismayed, since it is an extremely advantageous match for a poor girl like Fanny. Sir Thomas rebukes her for ingratitude. She shortly there after returns to her impoverished family where she wishes to return to Mansfield Park. Sir Thomas hopes she realises that it is useful to have a rich husband. Henry goes to visit her there, to demonstrate that he has changed his ways and is now worthy of her affection. Fanny's attitude begins to soften, but she still maintains that she will not marry him.
Shortly after Henry leaves, Fanny learns of a scandal involving Henry and Maria. The two have met again in London and began an affair that, when discovered, ends in scandalous elopement and divorce. To make matters worse, the dissolute Tom has taken ill, and Julia has eloped with Mr. Yates. Fanny returns to Mansfield Park to comfort her aunt and uncle and to assist with Tom's care. Although Edmund knows that marriage to Mary is now impossible because of the scandal between their relations, he goes to see her one last time. During the interview, it becomes clear that Mary doesn't so much condemn Henry and Maria's bad behavior, only that they let themselves be detected in it. Her main concern is in covering it up, and she somewhat angrily implies that if Fanny had only accepted Henry, he would have been too busy and happy to flirt with other women. This reveals Mary Crawford's true nature to Edmund, who realises he had idealised her in to something she is not. He tells her so and returns to Mansfield and his living at Thornton Lacey. "At exactly the time it should be so, and not a week sooner" Edmund realises how important Fanny is to him, declares his love for her and they are married. Tom recovers from his illness, a steadier and better man for it, and Julia's elopement turns out to be not such a desperate business after all. Austen points out that if only Crawford had persisted in being steadfast to Fanny, and not succumbed to the the affair with Maria, Fanny eventually would have accepted his marriage proposal - especially after Edmund had married Mary.
Characters in "Mansfield Park"
Fanny Price: The second-eldest of nine children, who is sent to live with her mother's sisters at Mansfield Park. Her mother married a poor lieutenant of marines for love. Mrs Price's alcoholic husband was disabled and released from the service on half pay, and she had to settle for a life far less comfortable than those of her sisters. Fanny is intelligent, seemingly virtuous, beautiful and has correct opinions but also sensitive and shy, and her status at Mansfield Park as a dependent poor relation only intensifies these traits. The bulk of the novel takes place when she is eighteen and nineteen. The interesting thing about Fanny Price is that although she is the main character, she is somewhat of a shadow throughout the book. Other characters are described in more detail and far more likable throughout the book in comparison to this shy protagonist. She has been in love with her cousin Edmund since she was young and when both realise their feelings they are married. Fanny is pursued by Mr Henry Crawford.Lady Bertram: Sister of Fanny Price's mother who is married to the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram
. She is perpetually vague and distracted. Born "Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon
, with only seven thousand pounds [...]." .Mrs Norris: The officious, skinflint 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 mark a distinction between Fanny's treatment and that of her wealthier cousins. Mrs Norris also takes every opportunity to save money, such as taking candles from the main house for her maid's rooms. Sir Thomas Bertram: 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. He later realizes that his behaviour may have caused the ruin of his eldest daughter. He wishes his own children were more like Fanny and William Price.Tom Bertram: The elder son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; he is seven years older than Fanny. 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, forcing Sir Thomas to sell the church position that was to have gone to Tom's younger brother, Edmund. One celebratory journey leaves Tom with a fever and he later learns 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 to form her character. Edmund becomes attracted to Miss Crawford, however after her opinions on the scandal involving Mrs Rushworth and Mr Crawford 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 Mr. Crawford causes her to become attached to him. She expects Mr. Crawford to propose to her 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 returns to her life soon after marrying and she runs away with him. Rushworth divorces her and she is left to the mercy of her family because Mr Crawford refuses to marry her. She ends up living with her aunt Norris.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 her sister 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 along with Mr and Mrs Rushworth on their honeymoon and to their house in town. At about the time Maria runs away with Mr Crawford, Julia elopes with Mr Yates, ostensibly to avoid being blamed for Maria leaving with Mr Crawford by her father. Dr. Grant: the current parson at the Mansfield Park parsonage, he is a large man who greatly enjoys food and drink. Mrs Grant: The wife of Mr. Grant, and half-sister to Mr. Henry Crawford and Miss Mary Crawford.Mr. Henry Crawford: The brother of Mrs Grant and Miss Mary Crawford. A charming, extremely intelligent and eligible bachelor who plays with the emotions of both Maria and Julia. This is observed by Fanny. After Maria's marriage he decides to make Fanny fall in love with him too, but instead falls in love with her. He loses any chance with her after he and Maria run away 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. However though she seems charming she has certain views and opinions which in the end mean she loses Edmund.Mr. Rushworth: A wealthy but boring man who becomes engaged to Maria Bertram. He later 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 also expresses interest in Julia Bertram. Son of Lord Ravenshaw. He elopes with Julia around the time Mr Crawford and Maria run away together.William Price: Fanny's brother, a naval midshipman, with whom she is very close. Mr Crawford seeks to ingratiate himself with Fanny by helping William in his profession. He is polite and kind and Fanny's only correspondence with her family until she visits them. Mr. Price: Fanny's father, an officer in the Marines
who lives in Portsmouth
. Mr. Price drinks too much and is foul-mouthed, and seems to have little to no affection for his daughters.Mrs. Price: Fanny's mother, sister to Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. She resembles the latter in her weak character and laziness, but under the pressure of a large family and a low income she has become slatternly and thoughtless. Like her husband, she seems to care little for Fanny.Susan Price: Fanny's younger sister with whom Fanny first becomes close on a visit home. She returns with Fanny to Mansfield Park and later takes Fanny's place helping her aunt when Fanny marries Edmund. Her character is better than many of 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 noted to not be particularly fond of her daughter in law.
Literary significance & criticism
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."
The story contains much social satire, targeted particularly at 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.
Edward Said implicated the novel in western culture's casual acceptance of the material benefits of slavery and imperialism, citing Austen's omission to mention that the estate of Mansfield Park was made possible only through slave labour. Other critics, such as Gabrielle White, have 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.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Mansfield Park has been the subject of a number of 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: Mansfield Park, a new television adaptation, produced by Company Pictures and starring Billie Piper, was screened on ITV1 in the UK on 18 March 2007.
- 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.
- Cottesbrooke Hall and estate including Cottesbrooke village in Northamptonshire, famed for its exquisite architecture and home to the magnificent Woolavington Collection, is widely believed to be the pattern for Mansfield Park and its associated village.
- The True Darcy Spirit (2007) a Pride and Prejudice spin-off by Elizabeth Aston places the main character "Cassandra Darcy" with the option to go live with "Mrs. Norris" of Mansfield Park after ruining her reputation.
- Mansfield Revisited (1985) by Joan Aiken was written as a sequel to Austen's novel.
- Harry Potter character Mrs. Norris is author J.K. Rowling's nod to Jane Austen's influence in her writing.