Places: Mansfield Park

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1814

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMansfield Park

Mansfield Mansfield ParkPark. Estate of Sir Thomas Bertram; an elegant, well-maintained English country house set amid formal shrubberies and bridle paths. Although Lady Bertram is congenitally idle, the estate’s servants keep the large house running smoothly. Fanny Price, a young niece and poor relation, is quartered in a “little white attic near the old nurseries.” Across the park is the Mansfield parsonage, the home of Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram’s overbearing sister, whose husband is the rector.

While Sir Thomas is in residence, the estate is a model of order and dignity, the beau ideal of a noble family seat. However, a flaw appears when the death of Mr. Norris coincides with the extravagant behavior of Tom, Sir Thomas’s older son. To cover this son’s debts, Sir Thomas must dispose of the estate to outsiders, the Grants, instead of holding it until his younger son is ordained. The Grants’ arrival opens the rectory doors (and hence, those of Mansfield) to their young relatives, the Crawfords. As this attractive but fundamentally cynical and corrupt pair begin to destabilize Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas must travel to Antigua to see to his properties there. An offstage presence in the story, Antigua hints at further disturbance of a basically conservative social order.

The Mansfield young people are talked into converting a room of the manor into a stage for amateur theatricals. Only Fanny is convinced that Sir Thomas would find this unacceptable; even Edmund, the most moral of the Bertram children, is swayed by the enthusiasm of the teasing Mary Crawford. Mrs. Norris, in charge owing to Lady Bertram’s indolence, indulges her nieces in rehearsing a play that encourages dangerous flirtations.

Sotherton

Sotherton. Family estate of Mr. Rushworth, Maria Bertram’s dull but wealthy fiancé, which is visited by a party from Mansfield Park. Approached through a long avenue of oak trees, the house, which has its own family chapel, is substantial but fairly modern and not very interesting. Its grounds include a bowling green and a long terraced walk, but beyond the formal parkland lies “a nice little wood,” in which shady serpentine paths overlook a sunken fence. There, a tired Fanny is forgotten as Edmund and Mary explore among the trees and Maria disappears with Henry Crawford. While Austen’s writings are rarely heavily symbolic, this locale surely underlines the moral wilderness into which most of the principal characters are plunging.

*Portsmouth

*Portsmouth. Port city on England’s southern coast to which Fanny is sent to stay at her parents’ home after she rejects Henry Crawford’s proposal of marriage. Sir Thomas hopes the contrast between the serenity and order of Mansfield Park and the squalor of a lower-middle-class home in the great naval port city will cause her to rethink her decision.

Price house

Price house. Portsmouth home of Fanny’s parents. The house is small, untidy, and full of ragged, dirty, and rude children. Its walls are thin, and it is an “abode of noise, disorder, and impropriety.” Austen makes no simplistic pairing of wealth with corruption and poverty with innocence. If Mansfield Park has become somewhat tainted, Portsmouth is altogether coarse and gross, failing even to recognize standards of harmony and restraint that one may be unable to meet perfectly. Although the Price house is disagreeable physically and disappointing emotionally, Fanny is able to control her desire to return to Mansfield Park until all the social couplings have been sorted out appropriately, and she is in a strong position to refuse Henry Crawford again. She eventually marries her cousin Edmund and installs the most trainable of her younger sisters as Lady Bertram’s resident niece and errand girl at the estate, which will be in good hands in the future.

BibliographyArmstrong, 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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