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Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

In 1814, the British novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) published the novel titled Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park follows the story of Fanny Price and her development into adulthood amid her wealthy relatives' household. The novel was an instant success upon publication but has stirred up some controversies for its discussion on slavery.

Mansfield Park, Open Book Pages, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Jane Austen wrote the novel Mansfield Park in 1814.

Summary of Mansfield Park

Fanny Price, a ten-year-old girl living in Portsmouth, is sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Lady Bertram and Sir Thomas, at their country estate called Mansfield Price. Fanny's mother struggles financially to care for her many children as she belongs to the lower class, so Lady Bertram and Fanny's other aunt, Mrs. Norris, decide it would be best for Fanny to go to Mansfield Park.

Mansfield Park, Country House Estate, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Fanny goes to live at her Uncle and Aunt's country estate.

Fanny feels unsettled and is very shy when she arrives, as she has never been exposed to the lives of the wealthy—particularly the manners and luxuries that come with it. Fanny grows up alongside her cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Only Edmund ensures that Fanny feels welcome at Mansfield, and the two become close. Fanny is abused and neglected by her other family members and misses her brother, William, intensely.

As Fanny grows up, problems begin to arise in the household. Fanny becomes a companion to Lady Bertram who is a recluse and does not like to venture out. Mrs. Norris' husband, the preacher, dies and the inheritance he left behind was meant for Edmund but goes to Tom. Tom has many debts to pay back due to his gambling problem. Mrs. Norris moves out of the parsonage and Dr. Grant, the new preacher, and his wife move in.

Sir Thomas has to leave for Antigua and takes Tom with him to check on Sir Thomas' plantation, which is facing financial problems. Nearby, the wealthy siblings Henry and Mary Crawford move in nearby. Fanny's cousins Maria and Julia both fall in love with Henry. Mary, unable to force herself to love Tom, and falls in love with Edmund. At the same time, Fanny is in love with Edmund. All the while, Mr. Rushworth walks into the picture as Maria's fiance.

The young people of Mansfield Park decide to put on a play, The Lovers' Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald. Edmund and Fanny are the only ones to object to the play.

The Lovers' Vows was a real play that first appeared in 1798 and was very successful. It is a translation and adaptation of the original German play, Das Kind der Liebe (1780) by August von Kotzebue. It was considered a bit controversial for depicting sexual relations before marriage and illegitimate birth.

However, before they can perform the play, Sir Thomas arrives back home and shuts down the production. Henry then quickly leaves which leaves Maria and Julia heartbroken. Upset, Maria decides to marry Mr. Rushworth and leaves with Julia on her honeymoon. Mary and Fanny become friends and Fanny's brother William comes to visit.

Despite Fanny's love for Edmund, he falls deeper in love with Mary, but Mary is concerned about his status as a second son. As the second son, Edmund would not inherit the estate. Henry then proposes to Fanny and she refuses. Fanny knows in her heart she loves Edmund too much and finds Henry immoral. Fanny is sent home to Portsmouth, and while she's there she discovers she no longer belongs and feels uncomfortable. Mansfield Park, despite Fanny's original discomfort, has become her true home.

Mansfield Park, Gold Wedding Rings, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Edmund and Fanny get married at the end of the novel.

Tragedy after tragedy hits Mansfield Park. Tom becomes ill, Maria has an affair with Henry, which prompts her to leave her husband, and Edmund and Mary end their relationship. Due to such tragic circumstances, Sir Thomas becomes less harsh and is kinder to Fanny. Edmund comes to realize he loves Fanny and the two get married.

Characters in Mansfield Park

Fanny is the protagonist and heroine of the novel, but there are many characters in Mansfield Park to remember. Here is a chart that will be a guide to who's who in the novel!

CharacterDescription
Fanny PriceThe protagonist and daughter of a lower-class mother and father who is sent to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt. She is shy, modest, and beautiful—but is mistreated by her family. She is in love with her cousin Edmund who is the only one who comforts her.
Lady BertramFanny's superficial and lazy aunt who cares more about beauty and attractiveness than anything else.
Sir Thomas BertramFanny's uncle and wealthy plantation and slave owner. He is harsh and authoritative until a series of events change his perspective.
Mrs. NorrisFanny's other aunt who is the wife of Mansfield's parson. She is incredibly cruel and mean to Fanny.
Edmund Bertram The second son of the Bertrams. He has a kind heart and cares for Fanny, his cousin. He falls for Mary before realizing he is in love with Fanny.
Maria Bertram Fanny's cousin and oldest daughter of the Bertrams. She is self-centered and rude and ends up marrying the hateful Mr. Rushworth.
Tom Bertram Fanny's cousin and the oldest son of the Bertrams. He is heir to Mansfield Park and is in financial trouble due to his gambling and partying.
Julia Bertram Fanny's cousin and the youngest Bertram child. She follows Maria everywhere and is just as self-centered.
Henry CrawfordThe wealthy estate owner who lives near Mansfield Park. He is immoral and causes quite a stir at Mansfield Park when both Maria and Julia fall in love with him.
Mary CrawfordThe sister of Henry. She is beautiful and shallow. Although Edmund falls in love with her, she cannot accept that he will not inherit his estate.

The Genre of Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park fits into many subgenres of literature such as Romance, Pastoral, and Family Drama, but the main genre is Comedy (English Literature).

Comedy (English Literature) is a genre of literature in which a story is told using laughter and humor for entertainment purposes. The comedy is derived from witty language, wordplay, and humorous commentary from the narrator.

The narrator in Mansfield Park is the main source of comedy in the novel. The narrator will ridicule the characters and use witty language to observe their actions. Characters are also put through many comedic and absurd situations.

She knew that Mr. Yates was in general thought to rant dreadfully; that Mr. Yates was disappointed in Henry Crawford; that Tom Bertram spoke so quick he would be unintelligible; that Mrs. Grant spoiled everything by laughing; that Edmund was behindhand with his part, and that it was misery to have anything to do with Mr. Rushworth, who was wanting a prompter through every speech." (Chapter 18)

In this scene, the narrator is describing Fanny's frustration with play in a humorous way. All the characters are unable to perform the tasks they are assigned resulting in an absurd, comedic breakdown of a play that Fanny never even wanted to be a part of.

Another important element of comedy is the use of juxtaposition, or contrast, between very serious moments in the novel and humorous moments. An example of this can be found in chapter 26. Mary is insulting the clergy and saying incredibly hurtful words. She then finds out Edmund, who she is interested in, is about to join the clergy. Her serious and hurtful remarks are juxtaposed against a humorous and absurd situation Mary finds herself in.

The Setting of Mansfield Park

The setting of Mansfield Park is mainly the country estate, Mansfield Park. Many characters go to London, which provides an interesting contrast between the countryside and the city. The city is viewed as a place of crude behavior, detached from respectable society, and the center of partying, scheming, and danger. The countryside, however, is viewed as a place of beautiful nature, but also old, conservative beliefs. Urbanites, like the Crawfords, worry more about appearances, social outings, and people, while those who love the countryside, like Fanny, care about nature, morality, and peace.

Fanny was disposed to think the influence of London very much at war with all respectable attachments." (Chapter 45)

Fanny disapproves of city life and prefers the countryside. After analyzing this quote, what do you believe the narrator means by "all respectable attachments"?

Another key setting in Mansfield Park is Portsmouth, where Fanny is from. Portsmouth represents the working class and poverty, while Mansfield Park represents the upper class and wealth. Portsmouth is characterized as dirty, noisy, and crowded, while Mansfield Park is refined, elegant, and clean. The contrast between the two settings is a commentary on differences in social class in England in the early 19th century. Portsmouth also begins as a home for Fanny but is slowly replaced by Mansfield Park, begging the question if a home is where one is from or where one grows up.

Themes in Mansfield Park

There are many key themes in Mansfield Park. The key themes are family, gender, and the concept of home.

Family

Family is a complicated concept in Mansfield Park. Family stretches beyond blood. Family is impacted by social class, environment, and circumstances. Technically, Fanny is her mother's daughter but is raised by her Aunt. When Fanny goes back to her childhood home, she does not feel comfortable or a bond with her birth mother. This plays into the theme that family is created by those around us.

You have shewn yourself very, very different from anything that I had imagined. The advantage or disadvantage of your family, of your parents, your brothers and sisters, never seems to have had a moment’s share in your thoughts on this occasion." (Chapter 32)

Family in Mansfield Park shapes the characters. Mrs. Norris' superficial and cruel behavior rubs off on Julia and Maria, who become vain and pretentious as adults. They also look down on Fanny, even though she is family, because she is of a lower class than them.

Gender

Women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries had few rights and choices. As seen in Mansfield Park, the upper-class women's main purpose was to marry respectfully and run a proper household. When a woman, such as Maria, engaged in an affair, the woman's reputation was ruined while the man's reputation remained intact.

Mansfield Park, Woman Man Bicycle, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Gender plays a key role in Mansfield Park.

'Am I to understand,' said Sir Thomas, after a few moments’ silence, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Refuse him?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Refuse Mr. Crawford! Upon what plea? For what reason?'

'I—I cannot like him, sir, well enough to marry him.'

'This is very strange!' said Sir Thomas..." (Chapter 32)

Fanny is a little contrary to proper gender roles. She makes her own decisions, such as when she refused a proposal from Henry, despite his wealth and good social standing. Fanny would prefer to marry Edmund, despite his inability to inherit the estate because of his morality and kindness.

Concept of Home

The concept of home is an ever-changing thing in Mansfield Park. The definition of home is different depending on the character. Fanny's original home is Portsmouth because it was the only place she knew and was familiar with. When Fanny moved to Mansfield Park she is uncomfortable with her new environment and misses her old home, particularly her brother William. However, when Fanny returns to Portsmouth as an adult, she feels as if she no longer fits in there. Mansfield Park has become her home. In this way, Fanny's perception of home changed based on her environment and where she grew up and developed.

In return for such services she loved him better than anybody in the world except William: her heart was divided between the two." (Chapter 2)

Home for Fanny is made up of memories of her brother, William, or of her time with Edmund. For some characters, home is where the wealth and luxuries are. In either case, home is a fluid concept and changes throughout the novel.

Controversies

In the novel, Sir Thomas owns a sugar plantation in Antigua. Although never mentioned outright, Sir Thomas owned slaves to work on the plantations. Readers in 1814 would have immediately understood this. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Abolitionism, or the abolishment of slavery, was a much-debated topic. By 1807, the Slave Trade Act was passed banning all British ships from transporting slaves to the West Indies from Africa.

Sir Thomas was also a member of parliament, which meant he would've been present during the debates on Abolitionism. Jane Austen was very well informed on the topic of slavery and Abolitionism. Her interest in the topic appears in the form of a question asked by Fanny to her uncle:

“But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?” (Chapter 21)

Her question, according to Fanny, was met with dead silence showing the discomfort and tension felt by Sir Thomas, who probably would've voted against the Slave Trade Act. However, it is never made clear what Sir Thomas's stance on the Slave Trade Act would've been.

The mention of the slave trade in Mansfield Park would've been a touchy and taboo subject for readers in the early 19th century, ultimately causing controversy. To this day, the topic is debated by scholars about what Jane Austen meant by including it in the novel.

Mansfield Park - Key takeaways

  • Mansfield Park was written by the British novelist, Jane Austen, in 1814.
  • Mansfield Park follows the story of Fanny Price who goes to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle at their country estate, Mansfield Park.
  • Mansfield Park belongs to the Comedy genre of literature and explores both city and country settings.
  • Mansfield Park contains themes such as family, gender, and the concept of home.
  • Mansfield Park raised controversy for its discussion and implications of slavery.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mansfield Park

No, Mansfield Park is a fictional novel. 

Yes. It is briefly mentioned in Chapter 21 when Fanny asks her uncle about the Slave-Trade. It is also implied that Sir Thomas owns slaves to work on his plantation in Antigua. 

Mansfield Park is important because it displays a heroine refusing a man's hand in marriage based on morals, which was not common in the early 19th century. 

The main themes contained in Mansfield Park include family, gender, and the concept of home. 

In Chapter 21, Fanny asks her uncle about the slave trade. During the time of publication, abolitionism was a debated topic which meant Mansfield Park became quite controversial. 

Final Mansfield Park Quiz

Question

When was Mansfield Park published?

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Answer

1814

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Question

Who wrote Mansfield Park?

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Answer

Jane Austen

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Question

Who is the protagonist of Mansfield Park?

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Answer

Fanny Price

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Question

How old is Fanny when she moves to Mansfield Park?

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Answer

10 years old 

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Why does Fanny go to live in Mansfield Park?

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Answer

Fanny's mother struggles financially to care for her many children as she belongs to the lower class, so Lady Bertram and Fanny's other aunt, Mrs. Norris, decide it would be best for Fanny to go to Mansfield Park

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Question

What is the name of Fanny's cousin who is kind to her?

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Answer

Edmund

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Why do Sir Thomas and Tom go to Antigua?

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Answer

To check on Sir Thomas' plantation facing financial problems

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Question

What play do the young people in the novel decide to put on?

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Answer

The Lovers' Vows

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Question

Who does Fanny marry at the end of the novel?

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Answer

Edmund

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Why does Fanny refuse Henry's marriage proposal?

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Answer

She finds him immoral 

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What genre of literature does Mansfield Park belong to?

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Answer

Comedy

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What is the setting of the novel?

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Answer

Mansfield Park, London, Portsmouth

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Question

What are the key themes in Mansfield Park?

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Answer

Family, gender, and the concept of home

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Question

What topic in the novel caused controversy?

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Answer

Slavery 

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