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Austen, Jane - Mansfield Park - Jane Austen´s life and her novel "Mansfield Park". A Comparison.
In 1999 the director Patricia Rozema adapted “Mansfield Park” fot the cinema. In a critic Hervey S. Karten wrote abot the movie: “Much of her [Jane Austen] thought and feeling infuse her works, which at times appear so in-your-face autobiographical that you wonder whether directors of movie adaptions are creating biopics”1. Hervey S. Karten is right! Many Austen-fans mention that the “Mansfield Park”-adaption of 1999 does not correspondend with the novel: Fanny Price became almost an Jane Austen- double. A person who only read the narrative and doesn´t know anything about the writer, does certainly not understand the reason why Patricia Rozema filmed an other “Mansfield Park” as one is used to. Did the director read the novel not carefully enough?- Of course not! If you compare Jane Austen´s life with her novel you will find an amount of things in common. The makers of the film have certainly studied Jane´s life precisly and they detected the real-life correspondences to the narrative. Therefore is the adaption of 1999 a kind of mixture of autobiography and novel. The following thesis will do the same as Patricia Rozema did. Jane Austen´s life and her novel “Mansfield Park” will be reviewed and then compared with each other. Stylistic features (for instance: narrative modes or structure) will not be handled seperately. If you want to be informed on it you can read it up in the secondary literature of “Mansfield Park” of the York Notes Advanced- Publishing House (p.69-75).
Happy years at Steventon (1775-1800)
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in the rectory of Steventon in Hampshire. Her father George Austen (1731-1805) came from a family of poor textile-merchants. His father, a surgeon, and his mother died soon after and so he was an orphan already at the age of twelve. George was supported by his rich and generous uncle Francis A steel engraving of Jane Austen Austen (?-1791), who made it possible for him to study at Oxford.
In December, 1761 he became pastor of the parish in Steventon and earned enough money to marry and support a family.
Cassandra Leigh (1739-1827), Jane´s mother was the daughter of a Church of England clergyman with aristrocratic connections and the niece of Theophilus Leigh, a dry humorist.
Her huge family lived in a large area of England, forming the setting for Jane Austen´s life. This family-circle had been enlarged during Jane´s life through a lot of deaths, as it was in those days, from women and children and through second and third marriages. Cassanadra and George were goodlooking, amiable and intelligent. They had a quite happy marriage, which was not at all usual at a time when it was common practice, for money and not love to be the most important reason in choosing a partner.
At Jane Austen´s time marriage had a greater importance than today.
Especially low-income representatives of the middle class had to pay attention that a financially unfavourable marriage would not lead them to ruin. Hence it had to be known which dowry both, the woman and the man would bring to the marriage. For women with a meager trousseau it was imperative to find a rich husband because they didn`t have any own income and no old age-pension as support from helpful family members.
Cassandra Leigh brought 1000 pounds and a block of flats in Oxford into the marriage, and George Austen possesed some estates in Tonbridge which would finance his prospective family. Those possesions alone would have been enough, but in addition both liked each other and that was more than you could have asked for of a marriage in those days.
Jane was the eighth of nine children and the second daughter. Her brother James (1765- 1819) studied, like his father, at Oxford and took over the parish of Steventon as clergyman after George Austen´s retirement.
The next Austen boy George was physically and mentally handicapped and, as it used to be at that time, he grew up remote from the Austens without any family- care and aid. The third brother Edward (1768-1852) was adopted at the age of twelve, by George Austen`s cousin Thomas Knight (1734-1794) and Catherine Knatchbull (1753-1812), a cildless and rich married couple. On the one hand it was a fortune for Edward because he was brought up in an even wealthier family and inherited the extensive estates in Kent and Hampshire after his adoptive parents´ deaths.
On the other hand of course, it was also hard and sad for the the family to be seperated. Fortunately the Knights were kind to Edward and they always contiued a close friendship with the Austens.
Henry Austen (1771-1850) was Jane´s favourite brother, very handsome and charming, and he always supported her talent as a writer. He became captain in the Militia first, and later an associate of a bank. Unfortunately the bank went bankrupt and henceforward he worked as a clergyman in his brother Edward´s county.
Cassandra (1773-1845) was only 2 years older than Jane and she was the most important person in her life. Because of their devoted relationship, they had a lively correspondence, in case they were seperated through visits at family members . Luckily that happened often! Through the amount of letters from Jane Austen to her sister we know a lot about her work as a writer and about what happened during her life. Unfortunately she relates only little of her feelings, the intentions of her work, and something like her own interpretation of her novels. Her letters are delightful and illuminating, and they show a pert, funny, undisguised sarcastic, and sometimes even malicious Jane. Once she wrote to Cassandra of her neighbour Misses Debory: “I was still as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me.”2
Jane´s two other brothers, Francis (1774-1865) and Charles (1779-1852), had successful naval careers and many had adventures in the Napoleonic Wars. If you want to understand Jane`s novels and to become acquainted with her, you should not neglect her family-members. The writer`s life and also her work was always closely connected with to her sister and her brothers and she never stopped taking care of her family as well her family never stopped taking care of her.
Jane lifed a happy childhood at Steventon. The Austen house was always full of life, not only because of the young boys who were educated by George Austen, but also because of numerous visitors to the Parsonage House.
In 1782 Cassandra and Jane were sent together with their cousin Jane Cooper away to school. First to Oxford and one year later to Southampton, where the dreaded frightened “putrid sore throat” struck the school. Their teacher, Mrs. Crawley; did not inform the parents. Fortunately Jane Cooper wrote to her mother, and soon after she fetched together with Mrs Austen the little girls. The students were saved successfully, but Jane´s mother Jane Cooper died in October, 1783 of the infection. So, at the age of six Jane narrowly escaped her death. Of course in Jane`s time the medicine was not developed and therefore even a quiet harmless sounding illness like a cold could kill a lot of people.
Soon after this event the girls were sent to school again untill Jane´s 1l th birtday. Cassandra and her sister were now being educated by her father. Jane knew how to play the piano, to speak French and Italian, to dance and she was an excellent seamstress and embroiderness. In short, Jane Austen knew everything that a little girl of her time had to know, and perhaps even more.
At the age of 14 she wrote her first novel “Love and Friendship”, and then “A History of England by a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian”. She recited both aloud to her family because the Austens always liked and supported those “literary pleasures”. Not only Jane could write narratives. ”The Austens were all talented with the powers of invention, that Mrs Austen called “sprack wit”, and many of them could write”3. Henry and James, for instance founded and edited during one year the journal “the Loiterer” and Mrs Austen devised funny rhymes for special events, like in 1794 about a ball:
“I send you here a list of all / The company who graced the ball / Last Thursday night at Basingstoke; / There were but six and thirty folk, / Altho´the Evening was so fine. / First then , the couple from the Vine / (..) They came from Mr.Bramstone´s house / With madam, and her maiden Sister / ( Had she been absent, who`d have miss´d her ?)”4
Probably the literary hobby of Jane´s family-members was an inspiration and reason for her to start and to continue writing. The Austens even practised little stage plays to perform within the family circle.
At the age of 16 Jane Austen had her “coming out”: She started going to balls in the neighbourhood and she entered into the marriageable age. Her cousin Eliza de Feuillide wrote in 1761 several times generously of her cousins: “Cassandra and Jane were very much grown (the latter is now taller than myself) and greatly improved in manners as in person.` She had heard, that they are `perfect Beauties, and of course gain hearts of dozens`, and again of Cassandra, `I hear her sister and herself are two of the prettiest girls in England´”.5
In spite of their beauty and grace both sisters had never been married. In 1795 Cassandra became engaged to Thomas Fowle, a naval officer, but he died 2 years later of yellow fever at sea.
Jane had several flirts and in 1802 Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to Jane. First she said “yes”, but after all they didn´t marry because of a lack of love on Jane´s side.
Years of Wandering in Bath and Southhampton (1801-1809)
In 1801 Rev. George Austen, his wife and his daughters (the brothers were all abroad and James, Henry and Edward were already married) moved from Steventon to “the health resort Bath”, because Jane`s 70-year old father was ready for retirement. Jane was not happy at all about this change in her life. On the 5th May 1801 she wrote to Cassandra about her new home: “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations. I think I see more distinctly thro`rain. The sun was behind everything, and the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke and confusion…”6
In spite of Jane´s dislike of Bath, the two sisters enjoyed the pleasures and distractions (especially balls and shopping), which a big town offered and they took long visits to friends and family members.
Having enough time in the often boring Bath, Jane went on to write novels and sold the copyright of her first novel “Susan” to the puplishing company Richard Crosby & Co in 1803. For whatever reason “Susan” was never brought out by Crosby.
On 21 January 1805 there was the first real bad blow in her life: her beloved fahter died of a feverish attack. Now it was the brothers´ duty to support Mrs Austen and her daughters with money, and they helped as good as they were able, but still the women always had financial problems.
In Juli 1806 the three women left tohether with their old family-friend Martha Llyod Bath. They travelled through the south of England and stayed for some time at Stonleigh Abbey, which most probably was the model for the mansion Sotherton in the novel “Mansfield Park”.
At last the Austen women settled in Southhampton together with Francis Austen and his wife Mary Gibson ( died 1823 ). In this new vicinity Jane felt better than in Bath. Now she started to care affectionately for her numerous nieces and nephews. (Edward for instance had 5 daughters and 6 sons).
Years of Leisure and Writing in Chawton (1809-1817)
In 1809 Jane moved for the last time in her life. The two sisters and their mother were offered a house by their wealthiest brother Edward near his own house Chawton Manor. Jane was now a middle-aged woman and her interest for men and dances were replaced through embroidery and housekeeping. What was still not replaced of course, was her love for writing.
By 1809 “Sense and Sensibility” was ready for publication and with Henry´s help it was sold to the publisher Thomas Egerton. In November 1811 the narrative was published anonymously. Nobody except her best friends and closest family members have been in knew of Jane´s secret profession, for it was still uncustomary for a woman to be a writer. On July 1813 she wrote to Francis Austen: “You will be glad to hear that every copy of S. and S. [Sense and Sensebility] is sold, and that it has brought me £140 besides the copyright.”7
The next novel was “Pride and Prejudice” which was anonymous as well and just as unexpectedly early sold out.
“Mansfield Park” was finally published by Egerton in May 1814 and the novel “Emma” in December 1815. All of her narratives was devided into three volumes. The novels “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey” ( first Jane Austen chose the title “Susan”) were published in December 1817, after her death.
Although Jane didn´t really become rich through her work, there was a more important sign of appreciation of her talent than money. An amazing amount of famous writers, critics and aristrocratic people admired the amusing, detailled, romantic, ironic and elegant style of Jane Austen. Sir Walter Scott praised: “(She) has a talent for describing the involvments and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is the most wonderful I ever met with.”8
Of course not everybody liked Jane Austen´s novels. Most critics mentioned that there wasn´t enough acting and tension, and they were boring. The always-recurrent plot in her novels is: “a girl falls in love with a boy and finally gets him.” Nevetheless it´s a mistake to think, that for instance “Pride and Prejudice “ is a simple and shallow lovestory. It´s a critical, ironical, beautiful and exact portrait of daily life.
In the winter of 1816 Jane contracted “Addisons Disease” (a tubercular disease of the kidneys). Even though she soon felt better, it was impossible to heal her. In January 1817 it had become plain, that Jane must die soon. Her clergymen-brothers told her about the gravity of her ilness. Jane Austen was “not appalled”9 and she spent her last months with her family and especially Cassandra as nurses. In the early hours of 18 July 1817 she died at the age of 41, in her sister´s arms and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
In one of her last letters her close bonds of affection to her family becomes especially clear. She wrote to her friend Anne Sharpe:
“In short, if I lie to be an old woman, I must expect to wish I had died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a family, and before I had survived either them or their affliction.”10
Very different Opinins about Mansfield Park
No other novel of Jane Austen causes so many different opinions. There are people who prefer it to all the other Austen-books and there are Jane Austen fans who have liked it, had she never written “Mansfield Park”.
The contemporary opinions about this novel are also very different and sound like this:
“You would be assured I read every line with the greatest interest & am more delighted with it than my humble pen can express. The excellent delineation of Character, sound sense, Elegant language & pure morality with which it abounds, makes it a most desirable as well as useful work, & reflects the highest honour &c. &c.—Universally admired in Edinburgh, by all the wise ones.—Indeed, I have not heard a single fault given to it.” (Lady Robert Kerr)11
"did not much like it—not to be compared with P.&P. (Pride and Prejudice)—nothing interesting in Characters—Language poor.—Characters natural & well supported— Improved as it went on.” (Fanny Cage)11
How is it possible, that people have such diffferent views about the same novel? Most probably it`s especially because of the timid and silent heroine Fanny. Jane`s mother called her even “insipid”11. Is Fanny really just “a little bit boring” or rather a very interesting and precious character. Is “Mansfield Park” the one of Jane Austen`s novels which can be neglected, or is it the one of her novels which is the most difficult, but also the most profound book? A summary of the novel, a characterisation of the main characters and a comparisson of the novel with her biography will answer these questions.
Summary of Mansfield Park
The novel starts like this:
“About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baront´s lady, with all comforts and consequences of an handsome house and a large income.”12
Her elder sister Miss Ward did not have the same luck, but Mr Norris also gave her a comfortable home. The childless Norris-marriage couple had lived in a parsonage near Mansfield Park untill Mrs Norris becomes a widow soon after the main events start. The marriage of the youngest sister turned out a real dissapointment: Frances chose the poor lieutnant Mr Price. Consequently she was socially seperated from her sisters and lived many kilometres away, but fortunately with financial support from the Bertrams.
As an act of charity the false and self-important Mrs Norris suggests adopting the eldest daughter of Mrs Price and the generous, but very principled Sir Thomas gives his consent to put her up in Mansfield Park.
Now the main events start:
As the ten-year-old Fanny Price arrives in the huge house, she feels alienated and lonesome. The pretty, confident and older Bertram girls Maria and Julia tease the timid, shy and not very robust Fanny, for instance because of her simple clothes or her slight knowledge. Sir Thomas appears stern to Fanny even though his intentions towards her are kindly. His wife, suffering from “a `little ill-health, and a great deal of indolence”13, is not really interested in the new visitor. She is not unfriendly, but she prefers to lie on her sofa and to care for the her dog Pug, instead of her family.
Mrs Norris never stops being malicious to Fanny and explains to her that she is not on the same social level as Julia and Maria. It seems she only wanted Fanny in Mansfield Park, so she can live her viciousness up towards a helpless person. Tom, the eldest son of Sir Thomas and the heir of Mansfield Park, is superficial and pleasure-seeking. He doesn´t really notice his cousin. Tom´s 15-year old brother Edmund who is destined for the clergy, is the only person who behaves friendly towards the little girl. To make Fanny feel better in the cold new surroundings, he helps her to write a letter to her Brother William. He is a real friend for Fanny and admires and supports her qualities, for instance her natural intelligence. Edward becomes the most important person in her life and during the following years she falls in love with him.
Fanny grows up. By this time she feels better in Mansfield Park, but her timidity never disappears. In society, except with Edmund, she is always the silent observer and she doesn´t have her “coming-out” like her cousins, although she is the right age. The behaviour of the Bertrams towards her has not really changed in a positive way.
When Fanny is 18 years old, Sir Thomas and Tom Bertram leave Mansfield Park for Antigua to take care of business. Mrs Norris doing her favourite hobby “organizing and meddling in other peoples´ affairs” goes “husband- hunting” with Maria and Julia. As a result, the simple-minded, conceited but wealthy Mr Rusworth is engaged to Maria.
The uneventful and monotonous life at Mansfielf Park changes as the new parson`s wife Mrs Grant gets a visit from her half sister Mary Crawford, and her brother Henry. Both are wealthy, witty, charming, good-looking and as town-dwellers from London they are especially fascinating for the Bertram-girls who have never left their home. Soon they become very popular at Mansfield Park.
Henry attracts the Bertram sisters and he flirts inconsiderately with both of them. Fanny feels miserable because she notices a growing interest from Edward in Mary. Notknowing Fanny´s love for him, he tells her of his feelings, in the hope of having a friendly listener in Fanny.
After some weeks the younger Bertrams, the Crawfords, Mrs Norris and Fanny attend Sotherton, the grand seat of Mr Rusworth.
During a “sight-seeing tour” of the majestical house they come to an old chapel. Here Mary expresses her feelings of the wretchedness of being a cleryman. Edward and Fanny are dismayed at her irrevent and blasphemous opinion. Thereupon Edward discloses to the shocked Mary that he is going to be a clergyman. During the next months she goes on to speak disparagingly about the church because she wants Edmund to change his mind. Her extreme aversion towards Edmund´s profession can be understood by the fact that she has already regarded him as a possible husband, but she is not willing to marry a clergyman.
After viewing the house, the group takes a walk through the huge garden. Henry who has flirted with Julia before, goes with Maria and Mr Rusworth. Miss Bertram and Mr Crawford try succesfully to get rid of Mr Rusworth. Edmund leaves Fanny alone on a bench in the wilderness to walk with Mary. Julia and Mr Rusworth are angry because of having been left alone. Fanny recognizes Henry´s unvirtuous behaviour towards the engaged Maria, and as the lack of appropriate behaviour of Maria towards her fiancé and her sister, who has fallen in love with Henry, too .
Shortly afterwards Tom returns without his father, who still has to care for his estates in Antigua, but accompanied by his friend, the aristocratic John Yates. The new visitor introduces the idea of playing theatre in the family. While the others enthousiastically welcome the plan, Fanny and Edmund are dismayed. They know exactly that the absent Sir Thomas would never consent to such an unsuitable enterprise, and try to convince the young people. “It would show great want of feeling on my father´s account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constant danger”14, reminds Edmund.
Nevertheless the majority is not willing to change their mind about the theatre. Mrs Norris, foreseeing ”in it all the comfort of hurry, bustle, and importance”15 as an opportunity to prove her imagined organisational talent is in favour of it, too. Lady Bertram showes little interest as usual.
The Bertrams and Crawfords choose “Lover`s Vow” and the love scenes or scenes with many emotions are given to those who already showed the most interest in each other in Sotherton: Maria and Henry play the parts of a mother who is adored by her son.
They continue their flirtation, especially by rehearsing, much more often than is necessary, their common scenes. Henceforth Julia is jealous of her sister and sulks. Edward is forced to take the part of Mary´s sweetheart and Fanny is asked to help them play their love scenes as convincingly as possible. Understandably, she feels terrible.
At that moment, when the first full rehearsal has started, Sir Thomas surprises them unexpectedly with his arrival. He is very angry with the theatre, not least because of all rooms his is being used as a stage. Fanny´s uncle recognizes that Maria´s part in the theatre is very improper in her sitiuation.
Above all he is dissapointed about Edward of whom he had expected to be a kind of “advocate of what was fitting”. From this pint on, his good opinon of Mrs Norris sinks extremely due to her assistance in the theatre. Sir Thomas is only pleased with Fanny who has always refused to take part in the theatre and who looks very healthy and well. Thereupon Henry Crawford leaves Mansfield Park without making Maria the proposal she had expected. Even though her father offers her to break off the engagment with the feeblewitted Mr Rusworth to find a partner more suitable, she doesn`t want to give up her high position in society, that her future-husband offers. Their marriage follows soon. Then Julia leaves with Mr and Mrs Rusworth for Brighton.
As the only young women in Mansfield Park, Fanny is treated with more respect, especially from Sir Thomas. She turns more self-conscious and open and feels well in this new situation. To please Fanny, the uncle invites her brother William Price (who he always has supported financially) for a few weeks and he even organizes a ball for both of them. Meanwhile, Henry Crawford has returned and makes the decision to make Fanny fall in love with him. He tells his sister about his plan. Mary who is now quite friendly towards Fanny, not least because Sir Thomas´ niece is at the moment the only young woman at Mansfield Park, promises to help him. Miss Crawford lends Fanny a necklace that so is able to wear the ambercross, a present from William, at the ball. Miss Price is unpleasantly surprised when she finds out, that Mary´s necklace had been a gift from Henry. She has still not forgotten his bad behaviour towards Maria.
Fanny looks beautiful at the ball and Henry´s admiration gets more and more obvious. On the one hand she is happy to dance with William and Edmund, but on the other hand, she feels sad about the growing love between Mary and Edmund. He has already reached the serious decision to make her a proposal, although she has not changed her mind about clergyman.
After the ball Henry goes far beyound his plan towards Fanny: He decides to marry her. His admiration and fascination for “the gentleness, modesty, and sweetness of her character”16 has grown to real love-like feelings. Henry uses the influence of his uncle, an admiral, to realize William´s long-desired promotion to lieutnant. With this piece of news, Mr Crawford pleases Fanny extremely and he uses the favourable situation to propose to her.
He tells her that “she had created sensations which his heart had never known before, and that everything he had done for William, was to be placed to the account of his excessive and unequalled attachment to her.”17
Immediately she rejects energetically, because she only loves Edmund and still despises her admirer. She has not forgotten his behaviour towards her cousins and doesn´t believe in the seriousness of his feelings.
Sir Thomas and the rest of the family are speechless that the young woman didn`t accept this fantastic offer. Consequently the uncle decides to send Fanny back to her family in Portsmouth for a time. She has to experience what a life without prosperity means to be able to appreciate Henry´s proposal. Fanny´s expectation of a waiting family which is happy about the reunion is soon destroyed. Her mother and father, as well es her little brothers and sisters show no real interest in her. The Prices male only talk about the navy and nautical matters during the whole day. Her former home is dirty and neglected, the family is noisy and without behaviour. Only her sister Susan is kind and friendly to the visitor. She suffers together with Fanny, from all the “faults” in the Price house. Fanny recognizes that “Mansfield Park was home.”18 She wants to go back, but there is no sign of speedy return. Only through letters from Lady Bertram and Mary Crawford, does she receive news from her beloved Mansfield Park. Meanwhile Henry visits Mrs Price unexpectedly. He has still not given up his intention to win Fanny´s heart and his behaviour without reproach really impresses her. She even starts to change her mind about a marriage with Henry Crawford.
Fanny´s visit at Portsmouth becomes longer than expected. A letter from Mary Crawford shows again in a shocking way her worldliness. She writes about a serious illness of Tom, but instead of being worried, she realizes a possibility that Edmund, after his brother´s death, will be the new rich heir of Mansfield Park and not a clergyman. Consequently, all doubts about him as a husband would be forgotten.
Through further letters Fanny gets to know more about other miseries of the Bertrams: Maria has left Mr Rusworth for an affair with Henry Crawford (whom she has never stopped to love), and Julia and Yates have eloped together. Because of all these unfortunate events Fanny is needed urgently at Mansfield Park, especially to come to Lady Bertram´s aid. Henceforth Edmund fetches her and also Susan some days later.
Edmund feels very unhappy about the fact that Mary comes to Henry´s defence, instead of attacking his socially intolerable behaviour. She is only angry that Henry has not hidden his “liasion” with Maria more cleverly. Now Edmund recognizes her lack of principles and her weakness of character, and thereupon his feelings for Miss Crawford change soon.
The last chapter of the novel tells about the people´s future.
Maria´s escapade is socially inexusable for a married woman. Hence her family has to avoid her, the marriage with Mr Rusworth has broken off at once and also Henry Crawford is not willing to marry her. Her fate is to live together with the nasty Mrs Norris, seperated from Mansfield Park with the financial support of Sir Thomas. Both Crawfords stay together with friends in London. Henry nevers stop mourning over the missed chance of a marriage with Fanny, and also Mary is not able to “put Edmund sufficiently out of her mind.”19
Julia marries Mr Yates.
Tom gets healthy and his life is more conscientous and helpful than before.
Sir Thomas´ “soul-searching” has as a result that he recognizes his past mistakes as a father. He has been too superficial to care about the real feelings of his children. Susan is happy to stay at Mansfield Park and to care for Lady Bertram. The most lucky fate, of course, is Fanny´s:
Last of all it is clear that she was the only one, who has judged everyone in the right way.
Finally she wins Edmund´s love. How? “Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford (..), before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman [Fanny] might not do just as well - or a great deal better.”20
They marry, and they live happily near Mansfield Park.
Characterisation of the main protagonists
If you read the summary of “Mansfield Park”, it´s probably difficult to have a true and exact impression of the main characters. It seems that an the “good side” there are Fanny and Edmund, on the “bad side” Mary and Henry can be found and Sir Thomas moved from the latter to the first.
Surely it´s not as easy as this. One of the most important reasons why Jane Austen´s novels became so famous as they are today, is her abilty to create “complex characters with real personalities.”21 Therefore it would be too simple to divide the persons in “amailable” and “detestable”.
I want to try to present you at least those characters of “Mansfield Park” who are most important for the course of events.
Sir Thomas is one of those persons who appear always unfriendly at the first meeting.
His stern appearance frightens Fanny after her arrival, too. Not even his daughters love, him but on the contrary: “Their father was no object of love to them.”22 Henceforth they are very happy about his departure. All plaesures which their father certainly would forbid, seem to be open to them.
Is Sir Thomas a vicious person who allows nobody to have fun?- certainly not.
Actually he is a father very concerned about his children, but he is not able to build a close relationship to them. Instead of teaching them history, playing the piano or “the correct behaviour in society”, he should have impart them trades of virtues as sense of duty or respect of others´ feelings. In Maria´s, Julia`s and Tom`s case he really failed this duty. The feelings of his children are not as important for him as their appareance and skills. Nevertheless he is not aware of the mistakes in his education untill the end of the novel. That shows at least that he believed to do everything right, and that it was not negligence which made Maria to an adulteress. In spite if his education too superficial, you may not forget, that he also educated one of his children, Edward, to a very high- minded person, that parents are not responsible for all mistakes of their children, and that Sir Thomas was a kind of single parent because of the lacking interest in the family of Lady Bertram. Besides a very honourable side of his character reveals in his generous behaviour towards the Prices, his admission of what has been wrong in his role as a father and his affection for Fanny and William.
Sir Thomas is also closely connected with Mansfield Park, the place from which his daughters want to escape and the beloved home of Edmund and Fanny. Mansfield Park represents just as its possesor “all that is virtuous in English country life.” 23
Henry is not “handsome”, but has “air and countenance.”24 He is very charming and entertaining. Mary´s brother loves to play theatre and it seems, he also enjoys to play with womens´ hearts. He flirts with Julia and Maria so that both fall in love with. “Had he been more in the habit of examining his own motives, and of reflecting to what indulgence of his idle vanity was tending; but, thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example”25, he goes on to raise their hope, being their prospective husband, although he never intended this. He is a worldly person like his sister, and he can´t find any positve aspects in Edmund´s prospective work.
As he recognizes his strong and deep feelings for Fanny, he (similar to Sir Thomas´ change of mind) seems to alter: To win her heart he stops flirting with other women, and behaves without reproach. If he had been a little bit more enduring, I suppose so, he would have get her. Just as Sir Thomas recognizes that Miss Price is a treasure, Henry knows that she is “something special and worth to fight for”. But in contrast to Lady Bertram´s husband, Henry does´t make it to change really. Although he doesn´t love her, he elops with Maria and leads her into the ruin .
I think, Henry has an erretic character. His great mistake is a lack of principles. Pleasures and adventures are too important for him. In the deepest of his heart he knows what is right and what is wrong but he is not strong enough to act due to this.
Edmund is very different to Henry. He is not charming, but his “strong good sense and uprightness of mind” promises “utility, honour and happiness to himself and all his connexions.”26 He takes his future profession very seriously. He even seems to be a born clergyman. Much earlier than all the others he recognices Fanny´s intelligence and kindness.
Of course, Edward is not faultless . “His worst failing” 27 is his “psychological obtuseness”27. As he doesn´t “have much insight into the workings of his own mind (…), he is absolutely clueless about other people.”27 In this, he is a contrast of the ”manipulator”27 and “lady-killer” Henry Crawford. Through the arrival of Mary , he is “caught” by her charisma and her appeareance. His growing feelings are like “rose- coloured” glases which make him overlook Mary´s grave faults. Not before her emotionless reaction to Tom´s illness, he realizes her true character, and “in seeing through Mary he must, surely, begin to see through himself”27. Just as he recognizes his own mistakes (a rigidity too strong and false idea of Mary) he notices that the woman who is really perfect for him was about all of his life close to him: Fanny! As the most of Jane Austen´s male characters he will be a “reformed and softened”27 husband of the heroine .I´m sure they will be very happy!
Sometimes Mary is compared with a “siren”. She comes from London, a centre of pleasure and style and she is very pretty, entertainig and “ has a wonderful play of feature.”28 She is a “sparkling figure at the usually sober Mansfield Park.”29.Mary enchants everybody, except Fanny. “Restricted” and “without excitement and pleasure”, that is what she thinks about church. She is calculating because first of all she planned to marry the rich heir of Mansfield Park Tom Bertram.
Yet, she is not heartless and without feelings.
She can´t change falling in love with Edmund. She is capable of appreciating Fanny´s goodness, and she defends Fanny against Mrs Norris. Her plans to reintroduce her brother and Mary as a marriage-couple after their lapse, can be seen as signs of forgivness.
Nevertheless she really shows her extreme lack of charitable feelings, and her superficiality, when she speaks about Tom´s illness. Besides her love for Edmund is not deep enough, to overcome her aversion to his profession.
If I had to describe Mary Crawford in one sentence, I would say: “Mary has good and bad trades of character and certainly the latter predominate, but it´s hard to find it out, because of her alluring charm.”
Her story reminds of “Cinderella”: “exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice”30 she arrives at Mansfield Park. The “general elegance of her appareance,” and “her bauty”31 is praised at the end of the narrative.
At the beginning she grows up only noticed and admired from Edmund and at least two men love her deeply. First nobody notices her, and nine years later she is “useful” and “beloved”32. Fanny´s positive trades of character are hidden and in a society of people craving for admiration they don´t come to light. Of course it is understandable when people call her “a little dull,” and in the first volume she really talks almost nothing. In spite of it you may not forget that its very difficult for a timid girl to get on well with a lot of superficial and stuck up people as Maria and Julia, and in an unfamiliar sourrounding. Fanny Price deseves respect that she always stays the same, that she listens to her heart and her extraordinary knowledge of human nature, although by it life becomes difficult.
Fanny is a Romantic heroine. She loves poetry and watching the stars. Her deep affection to William remebers on the brother-sister relationships of famous Romantic writers.
She is often described as “Christian Heroine”33. She is shocked by Mary´s worldliness, and view about ordination. Critics mention that it´s not really Christian of her, when she agrees immediately to Maria´s remote from Mansfield Park after the latter comits adultery. I don´t approve of this reproach. You have to remember that Fanny lived in a time, when people thought differently about adultery. Besides there is no reason for Fanny to pity a woman who never cared about her. I think, that people who don´t like Fanny never tried to put themselves in her position, and in the days of “Mansfield Park”.
Of course there are perfect heroines who have a good heart, are great observers and in adition are very self-confident and of course most people prefer them to Fanny. Still I think that Miss Price certainly is one of the most interesting characters I ever met with. She doesn´t perish in the huge amount of super-heroines and that is what makes her special and unforgetable.
A Comparison between Jane Austen´s life and “Mansfield Park”
If you compare Jane Austen´s life with her narrative “Mansfiel Park” you discover they have an unusual amount of things in common. The following real-life correspondences are at the same time an interpretation of tne novel. “Ordination” for instance has an important role in the novel and in her Jane Austen´s life. Henceforth, I want to show the meaning of the things in common with her novel and her narrative.
At the the age of ten Fanny has to leave her familiar surroundings without the prospect of ever returning . A completely new life awaits her at Mansfield Park, and the Bertrams don´t make it easy for her. Now, let´s have a look at Jane´s family. At the age of twelve Jane´s brother Edward likewise has to leave his parents to be brought up by the Knights of Godmersham Park. Certainly, Edward had a better fate than Fanny because he was still able to visit his family, and his adoptive parents were friendlier than the Bertrams. But , of course, it´s difficult for any child to leave an intimate place for a new, unknown and often frightening environment.
Jane Austen herself had this experience when she went away to school in Oxford at the age of 8 years, and two years later she escaped her “near-death”. It is safe to assume that she didn´t feel well there and was clumsy was clumsy just as Fanny Price. No matter if Jane Austen utilized her own experience or Edward´s adption, or both, it is obvious that she went through it as something negative, and hence Sir Thomas niece also has to suffer great pain in her first weeks at Mansfield Park.
In the same way as Fanny Price and her brother William, the writer and her family (especially after George Austen´s death) were dependent on the goodwill of rich relatives. During their stay in Bath for instance Jane lived for a time in the appartment of her aunt Mrs Leigh-Perrot (1744-1836), born in Barbados, and always exaggeratingly proud of her half-aristrocratic descent. Although her niece didn´t feel well in the company of this “condescending and overbearing woman ,“34 she had to bear her in order not to forfeit her finacial support. Fanny as well has to ignore and to sustain Mrs. Norris´ injustice and maliciousness because she is dependent on the Bertram´s good favour.
On the second of December 1802 Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to Jane, and although this marriage would have been an excellent match (and the kind of happy ending she always planned for her heroines) she rejected it. For her the lack of love was more important than the tempting prosperty of her admirer.
She didn´t share Lady Bertram´s opinion over this issue: “It is every young woman´s duty to accept such a very unexpectionable offer as this.”35 Jane´s decision shows that she was much more emancipated than the most women of her time. She prefered her own freedom to a marriage of convenience.
Fanny as well, listens to her heart against everybody´s will. Nobody could make her change her mind and at least, unfortunately not as was in Jane Austen´s life, she becomes happy with her beloved Edward.
In spite of this remarkable similarity between Fanny´s and Jane´s life they haven´t got the same character. Fanny is not Jane Austen. Fay Weldon a famous English writer claims: “It is tempting to suggest that the struggle between Miss Carwford and Fanny was the struggle going on in the writer between the bad and the good.”36 There is a Jane Austen, who tells in a letter to Cassandra: “Mrs Hall of Sherboune was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband (Now that´s far, far worse than anything Miss Crawford ever said)”.36 But there is also a Jane Austen who cares with great affection of her brothers and her sister and who loves her home in Sotherton. Her wit, style and selfconsciousness she gave to Mary. “The dutiful side, accepting authority, enduring everything with a sweet smile finding her defence in wisdom,”36 that´s what Fanny and Jane have in common.
Perhaps there is one other autobiographical model for the charming and beautiful Miss Crawford: Elize de Feuillide.
She was the cousin of the Austens children and the daughter of Philadelphia Hancock (circa 1738-1792).
She was born in India, and at the age of six years, she undertook together with her mother a kind of “Grand Tour” through Europe. After 1780 both stayed in Paris where Eliza married Jean Capotte, Comte de Feuillide, and she had an exciting life in France. She always A miniature of Eliza felt well in the role of a fashionable lady, especially during her visits to the Austens in Sotherton. They admired the young lady who brought along the “aroma of the big wide world”. She was very worldly and always popular in society just as Mary Crawford was. Not only was she liked by Jane Austen, but also Jane´s brothers James and Henry admired her. After her husband´s death, she chose the latter because (what a surprise!) she felt unable to marry a clergyman.
There are not only autobiographical things in common but also problems of Jane Austen´s time which she digested in her narrative.
In 1811, when she started with “ Mansfield Park”, King George III was removed due to his madness, and the Prince of Wales became regent. He was the leader of fashion and arts, and was famous for he treating his wife Caroline very badly. He was lavish with money at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when the poor suffered, and the upper classes were afraid to loose their possesions. If you draw a comparison to her novel, you find out, that also rich Sir Thomas is concerned about his estates. He leaves Mansfield Park for a long time to live in Antigua.
There is also a negative and dark tone in the novel that things have gone wrong and that Mansfield Park (a symbol of the monarchy) which stands for solid values, tradition, stability, faithfulness and respectability has become disestablished. Maria Bertram (just as the Prince of Wales) commits adultery, Julia elopes with Mr Yates, Lady Bertram (perhaps a symbol of the lethargic population) shows no real interest in her family, and Tom nearly dies as a result of drink-excess . The problems from the Bertram-family can also be compared to an illness (like the madness that defeats a good king), which comes from the top, from London, the home of the Crawfords and the Prince of Wales, an unvirtuous place. The fact “that something has gone wrong, that old values are replaced””can be found in Jane Austen´s time just as in her novel “Mansfiel Park”.
As already mentioned the Prince of Wales was the leader of fashion and art. Through him, theatricals became a popular pastime of the aristrocracy. His current mistresses, Lady Jersey and Mrs Fithherbert enjoyed playing leading parts. Because of Jane Austen´s aversion to The Prince of Wales, theatrical is treated as something immoral in “Mansfield Park”. Edward and Fanny, the two high-minded persons, are against the theatre and especially Sir Thomas becomes really angry over it.
Actually Jane Austen was not at all an opponent of this pleasure. On the contrary. The Austens loved to play theatre, like Sheridan´s “The Rivals” or “Matilda” from Thomas Francklin. Just like the Bertrams were in favour of “Lover´s Vow” as a diversion in the sober Mansfield Park, the Austens liked it for the same reason. Fanny is not against theatre because she doesn´t want the others to have fun. Certainly, not. She makes out the danger, that Mary and Henry´s flirt will end badly. She anticipates, that Sir Thomas is against it. Finally her fears turn out to be justified. You have to regard theatre in “Mansfield Park” as a kind of symbol for the bad influence of the worldly Crawfords and Yates, and not as a possibility of literary enrichment and diversion.
During Fanny´s stay in Portsmouth, her father Mr Price and his sons constantly discuss ships, the navy and nautical matters. The information for those not fictitious, but true facts about the navy, Jane Austen collected by her brothers Charles and Francis. She used their narratives about all the things which have to do with their profession. Also the adventures and experiences which William relates about his profession at the navy are most probably taken over from the brothers´ reports. The “West Indies” was an important place of a naval battle for the real and the fictictious sailors.
In July 1813 she even asked Francis, if she could use autobiographical information, that is to say his naval accounts: “Shall you object to my mentioning the Elephant in it, & two or three other of your old Ships?”37
It is also obvious, that Jane´s brother Charles was the model for William Price. Charles liked to dance, took loving care of his sisters, and when he was abroad (which happened very often) he had a lively correspondence with them. The same way William behaves towards Fanny.
Jane Austen lived in a slave-owning society. Not untill 1830 the legal emancipation of slaves took place. The wealthy people (including George Austen) made money out of slavery in the colonies. Edward Said, the writer of the “postcolonial” work “Culture and Imperialism” and advocate of the “New Historicism” claimed that Jane Austen did not critizice the slavery in her novel “Mansfield Park”. To understand that critic you have to know that Sir Thomas goes to Antigua to take care of his plantations and it is possible that slaves have to work there. It is not mentioned directly in the text. If not, the Bertrams in any case have their high standard of living as a result of slavery. Consumer goods in Mansfield Park, such as sugar and tobacco certainly are from the colonies and cultiveted by slaves. Once Fanny even asks her uncle after his arrival from Antigua about slavery. “Did not you hear me ask [my uncle] about the sleave trade last night.”38 (This question points to the fact that he employs slaves in his estates.) Silence follows this question. Here, Jane Austen didn´t use the possibility of a critical conversation about this issue. For whatever reason Jane Austen didn´t take over a political problem of her time into her novel. Edward as a religious and charitable person could make a great speech against slavery to show that he even cares about people far away and that he shares our modern idea of an equality of all races. Because of a lacking opinion of the writer on slavery Edward Said mentions:
“ Mansfield Park is about order at home and slavery abroad”39, that means important problems out of the “little world of the Bertrams” are not treaten critical enough. Mary´s liason with Henry seems to be a worse crime than the deprivation of liberty of thousands of people.
I mention this point to show that Jane Austen dealt this issue of her own time in an unsufficent, strange way but at least she did not neglect it. Perhaps it is also asking too much that a novelist has to discuss all problems of her time in a sufficient critical way.
Beneath “sailor” there is one further profession in Mansfield Park, which has great importance: Clergyman. In Jane Austen´s time this profession was surely more widespread than it is today. Through the French Revolution, a change of religious awareness took place and Church had once again a central position in society. Every parish, very often small (in George Austen´s parish for instance lived only 71 families) had its own priest.
Especially men from the middle-class, who were not the heirs (that meant the eldest sons) and didn´t want to join the army or navy, chose the well-paid and favourable profession of cleryman. “They were not expected to be interested in theology either intellectual or pastoral, it was enough that they “kept terms” at Oxford or Cambridge by merely registering there and once in the profession they often did no more than employ a curate on a pittance to do the actual work for them.”40 Even if it was a very popular job in those days, unusually many relatives and friends of Jane were clerymen. Already in the closest family-circle three persons practised this profession: Jane´s father George Austen, and her two brothers James and later Henry Austen. Certainly were the three men religious and had strong views about all religious topcs just as Jane Austen. Nevertheless not only piety was a reson for them to choose the profession of a clergyman. Like I alredy mentioned, there was not the same huge choice of professions as today in those days. Often the parents already decided (of course not without withdrawal) which profession would be appropriate for their sons.
James should become a clergyman that he can take over his father´s rectory and Henry was determined for this job as well. Although Henry was not keen on being a clergyman and first choosed an other occupation, both brothers were later good and conscientious clergymen.
In all probability Jane utilized her personal experiences which she had already gathered since her early childhood, for her narrative “Mansfield Park”. Edward was determined to be a cleryman just as Jane´s brothers. In contrast to many other youn men he “considers clergyman´s life as a vocation as distinct from a profession.”41 In spite of Mary´s and Henry´s dislike for Church, is he convinced that he will have a work “which has to charge of all that is first importance to mankind..”42 He is a shining example for all clerymen, because he devotes his life to religion. A forther . His colleague Dr. Grant, is an opposite of Edward. Theis clergyman is ”an indolent selfish bon vivant.”43
“Ordination” and “Religion” are the crucial themes of the text. “Fanny´s sincerity, Edmund´s compassion and Sir Thomas´ justice all have their root in the faith which they believe and practice.”44 The discussions about “Church” between Edmund, Sir Thomas and Fanny on the one side and Mary and Henry on the other side are very important because they reveale their different chracters. Edmund , Sir Thomas and Fanny are convinced of the usefulness and nobility of the clergy, Henry and Mary find it boring, effeminate and not satisfying. Of course everybody is allowed to criticize an institution and certainly in those days it was even appropriate. In spite of it Mary and Henry go far beyond it. They are not able to see any good aspect about the profession of a clergyman such as charity towards the parishioners,and they don´t act like Christians, too. I think Jane Austen wanted to emphasize that a clergyman has to regard his profession as an order of charity, as a life task, as a profession which one have to practise in his private-life as well.
Perhaps, two of the clerymen in her family were even models for her protagonists. Jane Austen A miniature of George Austen could have been thinking of her father George Austen whom she loved deeply and preferred to her mother, as she invented Edmund. When her father died she wrote things like: “excellent father”, “his tenderness as a father” “the sweet, benevolent smile always distinguished him.”45 George Austen, just like Edmund Bertram, was a polite, friendly, intelligent, charitable, honest man. He cared about the intellectual education of his daughters and Edmund did the same with Fanny.
There are also opinions that Henry Austen was a model for one of “Mansfield Park´s” characters. James Austen´s daughter Anna (1793-1872) wrote about her uncle: “ He was the handsomest of his family, and in the opinion of his father, the most talented. There were others who formed a different opinion, but, for the most part, he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation he was, and, like his father, blessed with hopefulness of temper which, on adapting itself to all cicumstances served to create perpetual sunshine.”46 If you compare this with Henry Crawford´s characterisation you find many things in common, especially their charm and popularity. If Henry Austen really was a model of his namesake, it can only be supposed because there is also a great difference between them: Henry Austen didn´t play with womens´ hearts, he was less arrogant and self-centered .
Finally, there is one further and very special thing resembling Jane Austen´s life and her novel “Mansfield Park”. Before Fanny´s visit at Sotherton, the Bertrams, the Crawfords, Mrs Norris, the Grants and Mrs Rusworth have a dinner Party, when the latter tells of his intention for some improvements in his estate. The plan of Mr Rusworth is to cut down a whole allee to improve the view of the land. Fanny reacts deterred and says: ”Cut down an avenue! What a pity! Does it not make you think of Cooper? `Ye fallen avenues, once more I mourn your fate unmerited`. “47 Just as Fanny, Jane Austen had a kind of respect for old and big trees, even though she was not one of the nature- enthousiasts of the Romantic.
As a final result I want to emphasize that it´s not certain if all the things in common which I found are really intended or purely coincidental. If you intend to find real-life correspondences in Jane Austen´s novels, in “Mansfield Park” you can surely find the most. But still it´s a mistake to think that Jane Austen was a writer who transferred people or events from her private life to her novels in ratio of 1 to 1. It´s possible that Henry Austen was a kind of example for Henry Crawford but, of course, everybody knows a “Henry Austen-like person”. Perhaps your charming workmate or the showmaster of your favourite telecast? Unfortunately there is not enough information about Jane Austen herself, or about her novels, which proves whether the real-life correspondences are intended or not. Of what the writer was thinking of, when she created Henry, Fanny, Mary and Edmund will always be a mystery.
Nevertheless there is at least one thing from “Mansfiel Park”, which was taken at 100 per cent from real life. The gold and the amber cross which William Price gave his sister as a present. In 1801 Charles Austen sent to his sisters Jane and Cassandra pretty jewelleries: gold chains and topaz crosses. Both brothers, the real and the fictional, spent a great amount of money relating to her small income, and that was surely so impressive to Jane Austen, that she utilized this event for her novel.
- Austen, J., Thomas, E. (editor), Mansfield Park, Publishing Company London Penguin Books, 199610
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2 Laski: Jane Austen, p.41
3 Laski: Jane Austen, p.30
4 Austen-Leigh: Jane Austen p.161
5 Laski: Jane Austen, p.34
6 J. Austen: My Dear Cassandra, p.42
7 J. Austen: My Dear Cassandra, p.100
8 Encyclopaedia Britannica
9 Laski: Jane Austen, p.119
10 J. Austen: My Dear Cassandra, p.148
12 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.5
13 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.18
14 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.105
15 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.109
16 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.242
17 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.248
18 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.355
19 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.387
20 j. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.387
22 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.28
23 Dick: Mansfield Park, p.66
24 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.36
25 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.96
26 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.19
28 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.54
29 Dick: Mansfield Park, p.61
30 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.12
31 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.225
32 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.380
34 Beck: Jane Austen, p.83
35 J Austen: Mansfield Park, p.275
36 weldon: Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen, p.144
37 Laski: Jane Austen, p.91
38 J.Austen: Mansfield Park, p.165
39 Dick: Mansfield Park, p.107
42 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.77
43 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.93
45 J. Austen: My Dear Cassandra, p.54
46 Laski: Jane Austen, p.22-23
47 J. Austen: Mansfield Park, p.48
- Quote paper
- Marion Stieglitz (Author), 2000, Austen, Jane - Mansfield Park - Jane Austen´s life and her novel "Mansfield Park". A Comparison., Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/100521