Chapter 1 Summary
Mansfield Park, first published in 1814, is Jane Austen's third novel. Although not as popular as either of Austen's two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park focuses on similar themes, particularly the concept of the implied importance of social rank.
As the novel begins, members of the Bertram family are discussing Fanny Price, who at that time is nine years old. Fanny is the niece of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. Fanny's mother is Lady Bertram's sister, and she is very poor and has many children to care for. The Bertrams have received a letter from Fanny's mother asking if they might take in one or more of her children to give them a chance to better succeed in the world. Sir Thomas is a very rich man, having made his fortune as a landowner. Lady Bertram came from a family of modest finances, but marrying Sir Thomas provided her a step up in society. In contrast, Fanny's mother married a man of no wealth and no social standing.
There is another person involved in the discussion of Fanny Price. This is Mrs. Norris, the second sister of Lady Bertram and therefore also Fanny's aunt. Mrs. Norris is the wife of the clergyman of the parish that serves Mansfield Park. She has not married as well as her sister, Lady Bertram, but she married far better than Fanny's mother. Mrs. Norris is very conscious of social standing. Although she encourages Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram to invite Fanny to live with them, she points out that they must constantly reinforce the idea in Fanny's mind that she is socially inferior to all of the Bertrams.
One other concern of the Bertrams, before they agree to raise Fanny, is that they do not want either of their sons to become infatuated with their cousin. Mrs. Norris assures them that bringing Fanny into the family while the child is still young should allay their fears. Because Fanny is only nine, the Bertrams' sons will regard her merely as a sister and will not be attracted to her as a future wife. Mrs. Norris also thinks that since the Bertrams have live-in playmates (their children) as well as tutors, Fanny would fit in more comfortably with them: Mrs. Norris has no children, and her husband is sickly, she claims.
Word is sent to Mrs. Price that the Bertrams have agreed to raise one of her children, and that child is Fanny. Although Mrs. Price had thought the Bertrams would have chosen one of her sons, she does not hesitate in sending Fanny to the Bertrams' estate at Mansfield Park.