(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mansfield Park

There are several points that set Mansfield Park apart from the rest of Austen’s work. Chief among them is Austen’s depiction of her heroine, Fanny Price, a frail, quiet young woman who has none of the high spirits or wit of Elizabeth Bennet or Marianne Dashwood. Reared from the age of ten among wealthy relatives, Fanny is an unobtrusive presence in the household at Mansfield Park, useful and agreeable to everyone and steadfast in her secret affection for her cousin, Edmund Bertram.

Fanny’s manner contrasts sharply with the livelier, sometimes careless behavior of her cousins and their friends. Only Edmund spends time with the gentle Fanny, although his own affections have been captivated by the sophisticated Mary Crawford. With Fanny’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, away on an extended stay in the West Indies, the cousins and their friends decide to put on an amateur theatrical production of a scandalous French play. Only Fanny refuses to participate, out of natural modesty and a certainty that her absent uncle would not approve. Sir Thomas returns unexpectedly and does not approve, much to his children’s chagrin, but Fanny quickly falls from his favor when she refuses the proposal of Mary Crawford’s brother, Henry, who had begun an unwelcome flirtation with her after Fanny’s cousin Maria married another man.

Distressed by her uncle’s disapproval, Fanny visits her parents and her eight brothers and sisters, only to...

(The entire section is 584 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The three Ward sisters have each fared differently in marriage. One married a wealthy baronet, one married a poor lieutenant of the marines, and the last married a clergyman. The wealthiest of the sisters, Lady Bertram, agrees at the instigation of her clerical sister, Mrs. Norris, to care for one of the unfortunate sister’s nine children. Accordingly, a shy, sensitive, ten-year-old Fanny Price comes to make her home at Mansfield Park. Among her four Bertram cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia—Fanny finds a real friend only in Edmund. The others usually ignore her except when she can be of use to them, but Edmund comforts and advises her. He alone seems to recognize that she possesses cleverness, grace, and a pleasant disposition. Besides Edmund’s attentions, Fanny receives some of a very different kind from her selfish and hypocritical Aunt Norris, who constantly calls unnecessary attention to Fanny’s dependent position.

When Fanny is fifteen years old, Sir Thomas Bertram goes to Antigua to look after some business affairs. His oldest son, who is inclined to extravagance and dissipation, goes with him, and the family is left to Edmund’s and Lady Bertram’s care. During Sir Thomas’s absence, his older daughter, Maria, becomes engaged to Mr. Rushworth, a young man who is rich and well-connected but extremely stupid.

Another event of importance is the arrival in the village of Mary and Henry Crawford, the sister and brother of Mrs. Grant, whose husband has become the rector after the death of Mr. Norris. Both the Bertram girls like Henry immensely; since Maria is engaged, however, he rightfully “belongs” to Julia. They also become close friends with Mary Crawford, who in turn attracts both Tom, now returned from abroad, and Edmund.

Fanny regrets the Crawfords’ arrival, for she sees that Edmund, whom she herself loves, was falling in love with the shallow, worldly Mary, and that her cousin, Maria, is carrying on a most unseemly flirtation with Henry. The less observant, like Mrs. Norris, see only what they wish to see and insist that Henry is paying particular attention to Julia.

At the suggestion of Mr. Yates, a pleasure-loving friend of Tom, the young people decide to put on some private theatricals; they choose for their entertainment the sentimental play Lovers’ Vows (1798) by Elizabeth Inchbald. Fanny opposes the scheme from the start, for she knows Sir Thomas would have disapproved. Edmund tries to dissuade the others but finally lets himself be talked into taking a part because there are not enough men for all the roles. Rehearsals and preparations go forward, and the plan grows more elaborate as it progresses. The unexpected return of Sir Thomas, however, puts an end...

(The entire section is 1123 words.)