6 min read ⌚
You know what they say:
Everybody dies in Shakespeare; and everybody gets married in Jane Austen.
“Mansfield Park” is not an exception.
Though it is (a bit) different.
Some say: more profound. Others: more simplistic.
All: most controversial.
Who Should Read “Mansfield Park”? And Why?
Jane Austen is much too big a name to consider yourself educated if you haven’t read at least four of her novels.
“Mansfield Park” is one of them.
So, you do the math.
Jane Austen Biography
Jane Austen was an English novelist, one of the greatest female authors in history.
She is known primarily as the author of six major novels: “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Persuasion.”
Most of her works have been adapted in many different forms on numerous different occasions.
The most famous one of “Mansfield Park” is the 1999 one, starring Johnny Lee Miller and France O’Connor.
At the age of 10, our heroine, Frances “Fanny” Price – the second eldest child of nine siblings – is sent by her mother to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Maria Bertram.
Unlike her sisters – Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris – Mrs. Price had the misfortune of marrying beneath her (i.e., a poor, and now disabled lieutenant of marines) and is too poor to take care of Fanny.
So, Lady Bertram takes Fanny under her wing, and, though constantly distracted, is fairly kind to her. Mrs. Norris, on the other hand, isn’t: a wife of the former (now deceased) parson at Mansfield Park, she’s an intolerable meddlesome miser, which means that she is interested in only two things – saving money and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.
That, and using every opportunity to put the lowly Fanny where her place is, that is, to make her aware that her place is certainly not a wealthy household.
At the time of Fanny’s arrival, Bertram’s family consists of four more members: Tom Jr. (17), Edmund (16), Maria (13), and Julia (12) – Maria’s four cousins.
As the time passes, Fanny learns that Tom is interested in only three things: horseracing, drinking, and the theatre. Maria and Julia in merely two: to be fashionable and marry above them. Edmund in one and one only: becoming a clergyman.
Needless to say, Fanny grows a bit distant from Tom, Maria, and Julia, and more than a little fond of Edmund.
Time passes, and the children become adults, ready to get married (it’s Jane Austen, after all!)
Due to some financial problems, Sir Thomas Bertram has to leave for Antigua to check the plantations he owns there.
Enter Henry and Mary Crawford.
A wealthy brother and sister of the local minister’s wife, the Crawfords move to a nearby house and become an indispensable part of the Mansfield circle.
We mentioned that everybody is now ripe for marriage, so you can imagine the rest: hormones start flying like crazy all over the place, and Mansfield Park quickly turns into a love battlefield!
If you want it in a nutshell, safe to say that basically every guy falls in love with every girl – and vice versa!
Henry can choose between Maria and Julia, and though he flirts with the latter when he feels like, he is much more interested in the former, who is not exactly subtle in showing her affection for him either.
Maria is engaged to be married to the boorish and boring – but £12,000-a-year-worthy – Mr. James Rushworth.
Mary, Henry Crawford’s as charming sister, at first tries to woo Tom, since, after all, he is the oldest son and, consequently, heir of Sir Thomas’ estate, and she honestly believes that
A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.
However, once she realizes that Tom is boring, Mary takes an intense interest in Edmund Bertram.
Well, as we said above, he wants to become a clergyman, and being a clergyman’s wife is not an idea which seems at all attractive to Mary.
This doesn’t seem to bother Fanny even the slightest bit: by this time – and she is 18-19 at this stage – she is visibly enamored with Edmund, even though she wouldn’t admit this even to herself!
What follows is – though, bear in mind that this sentence is true only in the context of Jane Austen’s opera – one pretty controversial scene.
Yates, a theatre-loving friend of Tom’s, visits Mansfield Park and proposes to the Crawfords and the Bertrams that they put on a play called “Lovers’ Vows.”
Everybody accepts the idea but Edmund and Fanny: they are absolutely horrified that anyone could suggest something as appalling and immoral as, well, acting.
Edmund thinks that the play’s theme is inappropriate for his sisters and that their father would never approve of it.
However, he is finally convinced to take the role of Anhalt, who is (conveniently) the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford.
As for Fanny?
Well, she exclaims:
No, indeed, I cannot act.
And as Fanny watches the play, we suddenly start pondering about the double meaning of that verb, as well as how perfect should Cinderella be to stop being a Cinderella.
In other words, Fanny is not your typical Austen’s heroine, because she is just too moral, likening even acting with hypocrisy.
However, in this case, Fanny is not that far off: Henry and Mary use some (once again, by Jane Austen’s standard) indecent scenes of “Lovers’ Vows” to flirt with Maria and Edmund, something that doesn’t go too well with Fanny and especially with Sir Thomas Bertram who suddenly comes back from Antigua and puts a stop to the rehearsal.
Rehearsal or not, Maria seems to have taken it pretty seriously, ending up disappointed by the fact that Henry Crawford hasn’t used the opportunity to propose to her.
So, she does the second-best thing: abruptly decides to marry Rushworth, leaving together with him and Julia to London.
Meanwhile, in Mansfield Park, Edmund is unsure whether he should propose to Mary: on one hand, there’s no good reason not to, on the other, she’s a bit immoral and he is about to be ordained.
And just like in an 80s romcom, he decides to talk about these conflicting feelings toward Mary with none other but Fanny.
Now that Maria is gone, Fanny seems to have earned a wooer herself. At first, Henry tries to play a cruel trick on the shy girl, but he ends up the butt of his own joke: as he courts her, Henry realizes that he is authentically and sincerely in love with Fanny.
Eventually, he proposes, but Fanny refuses: there’s no way she’ll ever marry someone who has acted immorally in an immoral play!
Sir Thomas is a bit unhappy that Fanny has rejected a marriage proposal from such a wealthy man, and – to teach her some appreciation of the lifestyle she currently has – he sends her to visit her parents in Portsmouth.
Mansfield Park Epilogue
Henry is relentless: he goes to Portsmouth as well to continue his pursuit.
But, shortly after, he leaves on a business trip to London and, soon enough, Fanny (and the rest of England) hears of the most scandalous of scandals: Maria has left Mr. Rushworth and has ran away with Henry!
And to make matters even worse in terms of the reputation of the Bertrams, Julia – fearing that she would be blamed for concealing the relationship of her sister – has eloped with Yates, Tom’s friend.
Tom, on the other hand, has fallen gravely ill, the result of his decadent lifestyle.
Once he hears of Henry’s actions, Sir Thomas repents reproaching Fanny, and calls her back to his estate.
There, Edmund finally realizes that Mary Crawford is not the girl for him, and that the one who is has always been there, before his eyes: Fanny.
He marries her.
Yates proves to be a great guy, and him and Julia are accepted back into the family.
Tom recovers and – having learned his lesson – becomes a better person.
And everybody lives happily.
Everybody but Maria, Henry and Mary.
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“Mansfield Park PDF Quotes”
Our Critical Review
Ignored by the reviewers but loved by the public at the time of its first publication, “Mansfield Park” is currently considered “the most problematic” of all of Jane Austen’s novels.
To some, this means that the novel is the “most eccentric” of the lot, brimming with appalling characters and featuring the least sympathetic of all of Austen’s heroines.
To others, however, this means that “Mansfield Park” is actually the most complex, the most profound and the most ironic of Austen’s six major novels.
As for us – we tend to side more with the latter group.
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