Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Mansfield Park Madness

Mansfield Park Chapters 1-8: Summation, Musings & Discussion: Day 2 Give-away

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Mansfield Park Ch 2 (1898)

THE NOVEL

Do not let us be frightened from a good deed by a trifle. Give a girl an education, and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without farther expense to anybody.” Mrs. Norris, Chapter 1

Quick Synopsis

Ten year old poor relation Fanny Price arrives at Mansfield Park and meets her cousins the Bertrams. Spoiled sisters Maria and Julia think her ignorant and stupid. Sad and sacred, her only friend is cousin Edmund who helps her write a letter to brother William. Five years pass. Sir Thomas Bertram and eldest son Tom leave for Antigua. Maria and Julia husband hunt with Aunt Norris. Fanny left out. Maria engaged to Mr. Rushworth. Mary and Henry Crawford arrive and meet their neighbors. Maria and Julia keen on Henry. Mary keen on Tom. Fanny and Edmund think Mary indecorous. Mary’s harp arrives, bewitching Edmund who falls in love with Mary. All the young people travel to Mr. Rushworth’s estate of Sotherton.   

Musings 

Jane Austen sets the tone of the novel immediately with Mrs. Norris’ passive-aggressive surly voice. It is effectively comical and annoying at the same time. She seems to run the Bertram family while her sister lounges on the sofa with her dog pug. I loved this description of Lady Bertram. 

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister. The Narrator, Chapter 4 

I think that Austen is introducing a theme here of negligent parenting with possibilities for great material. Lady Bertram’s two spoiled and snarky daughters Maria and Julia are certainly the evidence of it. Their brother Tom the eldest son seems to be also ungovernable by their father Sir Thomas, gambling and drinking with little regret. Only second son Edmund seems to have his head on straight, though I fear he has over compensated for his lax upbringing and taken the high road too firmly with his moralizing and starchy attitudes. With an outlook like this, one can only imagine his frustration in living in a household of such cretins and understand his desire to be a minister to save unruly souls. 

When we are introduced to newcomers to the neighborhood siblings Mary and Henry Crawford, I was amazed at how well their cutting remarks and superior attitude fit in with the Bertram clan. It is no wonder that the introductions go so well. I was amused that their sister Mrs. Grant immediately suggests possible mates for her single brother and sister. Shades of an Emma Woodhouse; – who may only be a gleam in Austen’s eye while writing this. Their discussion on marriage in chapters four and five is a great introduction to their personalities, and sets the stage for future romantic machinations. Here are two favorite quotes by Henry and Mary that really reveal what is coming. 

“I am of a cautious temper, and unwilling to risk my happiness in a hurry. Nobody can think more highly of the matrimonial state than myself I consider the blessing of a wife as most justly described in those discreet lines of the poet-‘Heaven’s last best gift.'” Henry Crawford, Chapter 4 

Of course, he is being totally sarcastic and poking fun at marriage and women after his sister Mary derides his past performance with ladies to their sister Mrs. Grant. 

“In marriage…there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.” Mary Crawford, Chapter 5 

Mary Crawford is much more frank about it. Like Elizabeth Bennet she decidedly expresses her opinions, but unlike Jane Austen’s other strong female character from Pride and Prejudice she does so without much censure and is often moralistically off center. I like that dangerous laissez-faire, wildly over confident quality about her. She definitely gets the sharp witty dialogue that Austen is so famous for. It is like watching a train wreck and makes for a great story. 

But what of our heroine Fanny Price? At this point she has had little to say or do. Cleverly, I think that is Austen’s point. Being the poor relation and a charity case in a resplendent household is a tenuous position. We see her pitiful situation, how terribly she is treated by her cousins, and feel her pain. It is uncomfortable and we are angered by it. The over-eager reader may miss the subtly of her character and not understand why she is in the background so much. It is a bit perplexing but I am confident that Austen has her reasons that will unfold as the plot develops. 

Questions 

  1. Why is Mrs. Norris not given a first name? Is this a telescopic insight by Jane Austen by way of a slight?
  2. Fanny Price does not act like Jane Austen’s other heroines. Nor does Mary Crawford. Is Austen being ambiguous?
  3. Why do you think that Austen has set up such a caustic cast of characters? What are the benefits and downfalls to this approach? 

Further reading 

Online text complements of Molland’s Circulating Library
Cast of characters
Chapter 1-8 summary
Chapter 1-8 quotes and quips

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 2 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for the free drawing on August 31st. for one copy of

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume III: Mansfield Park

Oxford University Press, USA (1988). Third edition. This hardcover volume has been the preferred edition by many since its publication in 1923. It includes an unabridged novel text and extensive supplemental material. Nice compact, but could use a make-over!

Upcoming posts
Day 3 – Aug 17            MP 1983 movie discussion
Day 4 – Aug 18            MP Naxos (Juliet Stevenson) audio
Day 5 – Aug 19            MP novel discussion chapters 9-16
Day 6 – Aug 20            Metropolitan movie discussion

17 thoughts on “Mansfield Park Chapters 1-8: Summation, Musings & Discussion: Day 2 Give-away”

  1. “[Mary Crawford] definitely gets the sharp witty dialogue that Austen is so famous for.”
    So true ! The humour of MP is based on cruelty and more often than not is delivered by the characters presented as morally unacceptable (Mary because she is only attracted to money not love, Henry to lust not love), the problem is, they’re perhaps the most interesting ones, which is an uneasy situation for the reader. Lots of dramatic irony with these two, not exactly funny ha ha but rather clever.
    “Fanny Price does not act like Jane Austen’s other heroines. Nor does Mary Crawford. Is Austen being ambiguous?”
    I think so ! MP definitely gives you food for thought, the characters being so strange. We know the villains of the story before they’re discovered by the main protagonist and that’s a first in an Austen novel so undoubtedly we understand them better. Fanny is quiet but observant and her choices speak for themselves yet many find her dull. I believe the moral is very ambiguous, nothing is really satisfactory in MP, I think Austen really questions us as readers – where do we side ? And why ? For once, the answers do not appear quite as clear as in her other novels. I like that.

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  2. I’ve decided to follow your reading of Mansfield Park, by reading the same part that you are blogging about. Once again I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it again. So much new to observe (and I’ve done a big assignment about Mansfield Park in high school, so I have read it thoroughly before).

    I have never noticed that Mrs. Norris have no first name. I read chapter 1-8 after I saw the questions and I noticed that Lady Bertram calls her sister (and I was thinking that Lady Bertram would be the one if any who would call her by her first name). It seem to me that Jane Austens characters is called what they are called by the heroine (Mr Darcy, Mr. Knightley, but Edmund and Edward), so maybe it’s just simply a reflection of the fact that Fanny always calls her Mrs. Norris?

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean about acting like Jane Austens other heroines… how does a Jane Austen heroine usually act?

    I’d love to think about the last question, but my dictionary couldn’t help me find a translation on caustic.

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  3. Gosh, I feel like I don’t have much to offer. I enjoy Jane’s work, but have not read my copy of Mansfield Park yet.

    Maybe Mrs Norris was not given a fiist name because she feels that the cahracter would not accept it and be insuled by use of her first name.

    Also, maybe Jane shows that some women are not as strong as others in these characters.

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  4. I came across your site while researching Pride & Prejudice. Sadly, I have not yet read Mansfield Park. Your synopsis and questions have sparked my curiosity and I’m going to have to do some quick reading to catch up with the discussion in the coming days.

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  5. I feel that Mrs Norris was not given a first name maybe because she is an inconsiderate person and Jane Austen does not consider her worthy of a first name. Another possible answer could be that Fanny, the heroine just address her as Aunt Norris and most of the time, we see other characters in the novel through Fanny’s eyes.

    Unlike heroines like Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood, I feel that Fanny is being too quiet and when she does speak up, nobody would listen to and ponder what she says except Edmund. Aunt Norris would just interrupt and put her in her place and treats her as a second class citizen. I think a heroine like Lizzy Bennet would not like to be treated that way and would respond with her witty tongue.
    When Mary Crawford was first introduced she is not the typical villain. I think she sees the good in Fanny and does everything in her power to befriend Fanny but gradually her bad values began to show up by the end of the novel. So Austen was slightly creating characters which are a bit ambiguous in Mansfield Park.

    As for the last question, I will take some time to ponder before revealing my opinion.

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  6. Hello to all participants of Mansfield Park Madness – Day 2

    Sibylle – Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I had not thought of the humour being based on cruelty before. I had seen it as JA knocking human foibles, though I do admit that it is much harsher in MP than her other works. I agree that the answers are not as obvious in MP as the others. That’s what I like about it. It makes you dig deep to discover the meanings.

    Kira – thanks for joining in the reading and discussion. We look forward to your comments. I was puzzled by JA’s omission of a first name of Mrs. Norris. Most of her characters who have been given significant involvement are assigned a first name. I thought it puzzling that she was omitted that service and though it might be a clue to the author’s respect for the character. Austen’s other 5 main heroine’s are given the spotlight and brought into the foreground with most of the main action and dialogue. Fanny Price, up untill this point in the novel is regressed. Mary Crawford seems to be the heroine at this point with her amount of witty dilogue and attention! So, I am learning to understand how JA builds Fanny’s character.

    Dina – thanks for joing in. Everyone has something to offer. I do encourage you to read alone with us. We would be happy to answer questions.

    Marsha Jones – thanks for finding us and being inspired to join in. We look forward to your participation.

    Luthien84 – Possibly JA did not give Mrs. Norris a first name, to foreshadow ourr feelings for her? We may never know for sure, but it does make you wonder. Fanny Price is almost a passive voice lingering in the background at this point. So different than JA’s other heroine’s. I think that there is a reason for this that will unfold as we progress. Mary Crawford is outspoken like Lizzy Bennet, but her opinions are off center. That sends up a red flag for me to watch and observe. She is not quite a villain yet, but building. I love how she and her brother Henry are outspoken privately, and publically. They are very confident that their opinions are correct. It makes you wonder how they get on in society. They are wealthy, but not so rich as to be totally forgiven for wild talk and attitudes.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  7. perhaps mrs. norris’ lack of a first name is a distancing technique, she is rather a cold fish and by not relaxing and revealing her name, she remains even more cold and distant. perhaps “cold” is too…cold. let’s say “formal” and truly, this formal amongst family is kind of inappropriate, is it not?

    and while i agree that fanny doesn’t act like other austen heroines, i do think the reader has more opportunity to see why since fanny is introduced to us as quite a young girl. unformed and uninformed of the ways of the world really. and it is in this way that we get to see why she is the way she is, retiring and even somewhat weak, and i think we are encouraged to root for her to learn to stand up for herself, unlike a character like elizabeth bennet, who, let’s face it, is pretty bad-ass. or even anne elliot, who may bend to the whims of her family, but sees how much she has lost by doing so. fanny is, at this point in the story, not quite there, both as a character and as a person. she’s still forming, so to speak.

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  8. It’s great initiative to discuss “Mansfield Park” as it seems the most misunderstood and neglected JA book. I with friends have recently had similar idea.

    As for your questions:
    1. IMO, there is no ulterior reason for not naming Mrs Norris- there are quite a few characters without name given: Mrs Grant, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mrs Dashwood, Colonel Brandon, Mr Weston…
    I think however that her name could be deduced from her godaughter’s name.
    2. I wouldn’t say that Fanny isn’t like JA other heroines- IMO, each of them is different and unique. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, seems to lack morals, which JA heroines possess.
    Fanny indeed seems to be a little on the background, which is caused by her position and everybody’s treatment. Even her friend and mentor Edmund sometimes takes her for granted.
    And as for Edmund- I don’t see him as too moralising. He has firm principles, but also his weaknesses- mostly, his blind attraction to Mary.

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  9. Those are quite interesting questions…
    I’m not sure if there really is a reason for Mrs. Norris not having a first name, there are other character in Jane Austen novels who also don’t have first names.

    On the second question, I think that’s the point Jane Austen is trying to make – it is a little ambiguous, and it’s kind of hard not to like Mary in the beginning, but very slowly, as we progress through the book, we start to see more and more of her failings. So yes, it is a little ambiguous.

    And to the third question…well I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand it… sorry. =(
    but thank you for the new understandings on MP! =)

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  10. I cannot understand how people cannot like mansfield park! it is still by jane austen and therefore very enjoyable. I’m lad that you’re doing this, it may make people realize that it really isn’t as bad as they think it is!

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  11. Your last question I find especially intriguing. Why has Austen given us such a caustic set of characters? I think I agree with Margaret Drabble (who wrote the introduction to the Signet Classic edition of MP): Austen forces us to choose, to be unsatisfied. Both the Edmund/Fanny world and the Mary/Henry world are unsatisfying. E/F’s world is immobile, fixed, prudish, priggish, and boring, but at least it’s moral. M/H’s world is sparkling, humorous, and romantic, but also immoral.

    Throughout the book, the reader longs to choose the Crawfords, to decide to be in their society. But their actions make that impossible. And so we reluctantly choose to be on Fanny’s side. The reason that Jane does this (so says Drabble), is to make her novel like real life. She herself thought P&P was too ‘sparkling’ and false to be a true mirror to the world. She wanted to follow it up with a more sober, realistic book that better showed how the world holds as much disappointment as it does excitement.

    What I would add to Drabble’s analysis is the idea that Jane Austen is punishing herself, in an odd way. Jane knew what a biting, powerful wit she had, and she knew its ability to negatively affect others. (I remember she wrote a prayer in which she asked G-d to guard her against being harmful to others). Mary Crawford is very much like Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Austen in her ability to verbally skewer her fellow creatures. With Mary, Jane shows how such a trait can be as evil as it can be charming. Well, at least that’s what I think.

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  12. I have just discovered this site. I like the idea of re-reading Mansfield Park with your comments to make me aware of other aspects of the story.
    1. Why does Mrs Norris not have a first name? I believe that this is Austen’s way of showing how Mrs. Norris lacked any close personal relationship. There was no one in the story who was on a footing to address her as a friend.
    2. The differences between Fanny and Mary and Jane’s other heroines and 3. Why does Austen have such a caustic cast of characters. Both of these questions can be linked to what I believe is Austen’s complete change of point of view with MP. I almost feel that she is attempting to write a novel which breaks the standard conventions of novels of the time. This novel questions the possibility of happiness in a married life. The marriages of the 3 sisters cover all the various reasons for marriage (one for love or at least passion, one for position and one for convenience) and yet all are failures. The most successful relationships are between the male and female siblings.

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  13. Dae, your comment is so interesting. I think both worlds (Fanny’s and the Crawford’s) are attractive and repulsive in that they are extreme, and I’m sure many people are puzzled by the fact that the villains of the book are not really as horrible as we’d like them to be. I know I find them more interesting and witty than the Bertrams and certain more so than any other villain in Austen’s books. Perhaps, as you say, it was to show different aspects of being witty and smart, I like your comparison with Elizabeth.
    This is so ambiguous…

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  14. Even though this is an old post, I just found the site, while re-reading all of Austen in my summer holiday (what better way to spend it!)

    I’ve only read MP once before, as a silly 17-year old just after reading S&S and P&P for the first time. My native language is Danish, and this time, 10 years later, I try to read in English in stead, because a lot of the humor and satire gets lost in translation.

    I disliked Fanny the last time I read the book, but she grows on me this time, maybe because I have a better understanding of the times Austen lived and wrote in.

    There’s a couple of things who puzzles me: At the first dinner party at Mansfield which the Crawfords attend, Mary says something about her uncle, which both Edmund and Fanny dislike very much, and feel is very embarassing for Mary to say. This is the qoute:

    “Ay, you have been brought up to it. It was no part of my education; and the only dose I ever had, being administered by not the first favourite in the world, has made me consider improvements in hand as the greatest of nuisances. Three years ago the Admiral, my honoured uncle, bought a cottage at Twickenham for us all to spend our summers in; and my aunt and I went down to it quite in raptures; but it being excessively pretty, it was soon found necessary to be improved, and for three months we were all dirt and confusion, without a gravel walk to step on, or a bench fit for use. I would have everything as complete as possible in the country, shrubberies and flower-gardens, and rustic seats innumerable: but it must all be done without my care. Henry is different; he loves to be doing.”

    What is it that is so wrong about what she says?

    Another thing: It seems to me, that Fanny is often tired and worn out by exercise e.g. walking. Was ladies of the time so not used to walking that they got tired so fast, or did we learn that Fanny’s not that strong? I sometimes feel, that Fanny IS strong enough to walk so much as she wants, but perhaps she doesn’t think so herself, because Edmund points out (a couple of times I think?) that she is not very strong?

    Hope it’s ok for me to write in this post again …

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    1. Malene, I believe that Edmund disapproves of Mary speaking about her uncle aquiring a country residence that was not suitable without an improved garden for ladies to walk in. Her talk is a sideways insult to her uncle, who she feels should have chosen a property with improved gardens and not inconvenienced her without one. It shows a bit of her character flaws in being selfish, outspoken, and insensitive. Austen often has Mary Crawford say such unpolished comments and in turn have Edmund overlook or forgive her for her bad behaviour. Polite society would not be so blatent.

      Fanny is shown in the novel to be physically weak. The other characters make comments and accomodations for her. When she is sent several times in the heat from Mansfield Park to Mrs. Norris’ cottage on errands, Edmund is quite angry when he hears of it. Regency ladies in general were walkers. Probably not as passionately as Lizzy Bennet in P&P, but walking was one of the few physical activities that they were permitted to do.

      Hope that this was helpful. Thank you for stopping by.

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  15. Hi Laurel Ann, that helped me a lot. I read the passage with Mary’s comment several times, and it annoyed me not to know what she said, that was offensive. Can one assume that another thing she did wrong was to speak to personal and private when she didn’t know Edmund and Fanny that well at this time?

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  16. Yes, she is being too outspoken and free with two people she has just met. Good observation. You are picking up on all the bread crumbs that Austen in leaving to build a case against Mary Crawford’s unproprietous behavior. Her characterization makes for great reading, offering a temptation to Edmund the future minister, and a contrast of morals to the principled Fanny Price.

    It is interesting that over the centuries, people talk about Mary Crawford more enthusiatically than Fanny Price. Given that both of these ladies have opposite moral standards, Mary Crawford does not get bashed as much for her wild ways as poor Fanny does for being principled and timid. As a society, we do love our villians and a good bus accident. It sells novels and movies.

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