Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

By: Jane Austen
Published by: T. Egerton
Publication Date: 1814

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Description

Mansfield Park was Jane Austen’s third anonymously published novel. By this point, though, her authorship was an open secret. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, a young girl from a large improvident family, is taken in by her mother’s wealthy relations. The stories of the changes in the circumstances and future prospects of displaced children play out in the lives of several of Jane’s characters, as they did in her own family. The second of the Austen children, George, who was born with developmental disabilities and was likely epileptic, was ‘fostered out’ to the family of the woman to whom the Austen children were ‘put out to nurse’ as infants. He never returned home from his stay with her. Another of her brothers, Edward, without the inheritance of an older son to look forward to, and showing no brilliancy or academic promise, would likely not have amounted to much, were it not for the fact that the charming boy, after visiting with wealthy childless relations of his father for the holidays, was subsequently adopted by them as their much doted-upon son and heir, gaining both their name and their estate. Edward’s story mirrors in many ways that of Emma’s Frank Churchill, but Jane Fairfax, also from Emma, and Fanny Price were not so fortunate.

Rather than being adopted as true daughters and enfolded into the bosoms of their new families, Jane Fairfax and Fanny Price find themselves at the same time both within and without. It is not only, or even primarily, in the ways the are treated and spoken to, but in the mores and unspoken subtleties that we find them continuously reminded of their otherness, their dependance, and their inferiority. Great care is taken by those around them to preserve the distinction of class between them and those who are, in Hamlet’s words, to the manner born. Every aspect of both their physical and relational surroundings is carefully choreographed to emphasis important truths: this arrangement is not only temporary, it is one of condescension, convenience, and conditions. Fanny’s uncle, in speaking to her aunt about the arrangements to be made in preparation for her coming remarks,

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris, as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up: how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram. I should wish to see them very good friends, and would, on no account, authorize in my girls the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different. It is a point of great delicacy, and you must assist us in our endeavours to choose exactly the right line of conduct.”

After reconciling herself to the inescapability of her circumstances, Fanny, through her steadfastness, devotion, and humility, matures into a young woman who is simultaneously invisible and indispensable, an excellent judge of character, wise beyond both her years and her elders. Fanny’s struggle to balance both her feelings of gratitude and obligation to her benefactors with her own interests and convictions, and her allegiances to both her first and second families, makes for a particularly poignant story. Happily for Fanny, her fidelity and kindness see her finally installed in Mansfield Park as a daughter, in name and in love.

— Written by Johanna Bittle

Reprints

Mansfield Park Reprint

Mansfield Park
Reprinted in 2017 by The Folio Society
Reprint illustrated by Darya Shnykina
Reprint foreword by Lucy Worsley
Available formats: Hardcover
View on the The Folio Society site


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