Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 944
Of central interest are Fanny Price and her clergyman cousin, Edmund Bertram. At the age of nine Fanny had come to live with her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, and his family at Mansfield Park. Nine years later she has fallen in love with Edmund. He, however, loves Mary Crawford. Meanwhile Fanny is pursued, first jestingly and then earnestly, by Mary’s brother, Henry.
Fanny recognizes that Henry and Mary are morally flawed. Her judgment is vindicated when Henry runs off with Marie Bertram after she has married Rushworth. Mary’s refusal to condemn her brother reveals to Edmund that she would not be a suitable wife. With the Crawfords thus removed, Edmund and Fanny marry.
In a letter to her sister, Jane Austen wrote that the book is about “ordination.” Edmund Bertram’s choice of the church as a profession is indeed important in the novel, which explores the role of the clergy.
Ordination here is not limited to its clerical sense, though, for the novel, like all of Austen’s fiction, concerns the proper ordering of society. The Crawfords and most of the Bertrams lack those principles necessary for civilization to survive. They have wit but lack wisdom; and, as Austen wrote to her niece in 1814, “Wisdom is better than Wit, & in the long run will certainly have the laugh on her side.”
Such wisdom is not innate, and another concern of the novel is how to instill “that principle of right” that Fanny learns but the Crawfords and the Bertram girls do not.
Although the novel ends happily for Edmund and Fanny, the tone is somber. Writing at the time that Napoleon was upsetting the old order in Europe, Jane Austen warned that one violates conventions only at great peril to oneself and one’s world.
Armstrong, Isobel. Jane Austen: “Mansfield Park.” London: Penguin, 1988. A short but perceptive feminist examination of Mansfield Park with excerpts from contemporary influences (Mary Wollstonecraft, John Locke, Elizabeth Inchbald). Select bibliography.
Auerbach, Nina. “Jane Austen’s Dangerous Charm: Feeling as One Ought About Fanny Price.” In Romantic Imprisonment: Women and Other Glorified Outcasts. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. A leading negative essay on Fanny as “monster.”
Brown, Julia Prewitt. Jane Austen’s Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. Sees Mansfield Park’s message as the suffocating decline of England into Victorianism.
Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1987. Explores Austen’s conservative attitudes toward female education by contrasting Fanny, the “perfect” Christian heroine, with the other female characters. Argues that Fanny is a paradoxical and appealing mixture of feeble passivity and quiet endurance.
Duckworth, Alistair. The Improvement of the Estate: A Study of Jane Austen’s Novels. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971. A crucial study of Austen’s treatment of the relation between the individual and society. Asserts that Austen uses the country estate to represent social, political, and moral order. In Mansfield Park, contrasts the “improvers,” who sacrifice harmony to individual desire, with Fanny, whose individual respect enlivens the communal values of Mansfield Park.
Fleishman, Avrom. A Reading of “Mansfield Park”: An Essay in Critical Synthesis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1967. A detailed multiperspectival discussion of the novel. Places the novel in its historical context, examines the psychological realism of Austen’s characters, and analyzes the novel’s mythical structure. Also contains a helpful bibliography.
Gard, Roger. Jane Austen’s Novels: The Art of Clarity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Presents Austen as a major realistic novelist; sensitive but critical of Fanny. Thorough bibliography.
Handley, Graham. Jane Austen. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. A helpful overview of Austen’s work.
Hardy, Barbara. A Reading of Jane Austen. New York: New York University Press, 1976. A sensitive study interpreting Fanny as Romanticism’s intellectual heir.
Honan, Park. Jane Austen: Her Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. An interesting, definitive biography. Vague on dates.
Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. A perceptive, well-informed feminist view of Austen as middle-of-the-road. Somewhat left-leaning. Sees Mansfield Park as an indictment of the gentry. Bibliography buried in endnotes.
Koppel, Gene. The Religious Dimension of Jane Austen’s Novels. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. Views Mansfield Park as a “dark”—that is, socially informed—comedy.
MacDonagh, Oliver. Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. An illuminating contextual study by a historian who reads Mansfield Park in contemporary religious terms.
Monaghan, David. Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision. London: Macmillan, 1980. A useful new-historicist reading that views Fanny as central to her society.
Mooneyham, Laura G. Romance, Language and Education in Jane Austen’s Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Interprets the central issue of Mansfield Park as the heroine’s education. Sees this, however, as Fanny’s progress from the negative, because incomplete, virtues of duty and patience to the positive, active, virtues of judging and directing.
Morgan, Susan. In the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen’s Fiction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. A thoughtful analysis of Fanny as a developing character.
Southam, B. C. Critical Essays on Jane Austen. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1968. A helpful, introductory collection of ten essays, two of which deal specifically with Mansfield Park, exploring the artistry with which Austen conveys the novel’s moral and social conservatism.
Tanner, Tony. Jane Austen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Graceful, rewarding introductory essays. Admiring of unchanging Fanny.
Thompson, James. Between Self and World: The Novels of Jane Austen. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. A new-historicist reading using the marriage contract as emblematic of English society.
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