“Mrs. Augusta Bramstone – owned that she thought S. & S. – and P. & P. downright nonsense, but expected to like M. P. better, & having finished the 1st vol. – flattered herself she had got through the worst.”–Jane Austen
We have the unique pleasure of still having Jane Austen’s collection of opinions by her family and friends on her novel Mansfield Park which she assembled between 1814-1816. My favorite totally candid remark is listed above as the epigraph. Too funny! One wonders (ever so slightly) if Jane Austen’s mother started the rumor that Fanny Price is insipid, and what Mrs. Lefroy thought of Northanger Abbey three years later! Ha! Enjoy.
“We certainly do not think it as a whole, equal to P. & P. – but it has many & great beauties. Fanny is a delightful Character! and Aunt Norris is a great favourite of mine. The Characters are natural & well supported, & many of the Dialogues excellent. – You need not fear the publication being considered as discreditable to the talents of it’s Author.” – F [rancis] W[illiam] A[usten]
Mr. K. [Edward Austen Knight] not so clever as P. & P. – but pleased with it altogether. Liked the character of Fanny. Admired the Portsmouth Scene.
Edward & George [Knight] not liked it near so well as P. & P. – Edward admired Fanny – George disliked her. – George interested by nobody but Mary Crawford – Edward pleased with Henry C[rawford] – Edmund objected to, as cold & formal. – Henry C[rawford]’s going off with Mrs. R[ushworth], at such a time, when so much in love with Fanny, thought unnatural by Edward.
Fanny Knight liked it, in many parts, very much indeed, delighted with Fanny; – but not satisfied with the end – wanting more Love between her & Edmund – & could not think it natural that Edmund should be so much attached to a woman without Principle like Mary C[rawford] – or promote Fanny’s marrying Henry.
Anna [Lefroy] liked it better than P. & P. – but not so well as S. & S. – could not bear Fanny. – Delighted with Mrs. Norris, the scene at Portsmouth, & all the humourous parts.
Mrs. James Austen, very much pleased. Enjoyed Mrs. Norris particularly, & the scene at Portsmouth. Thought Henry Crawford’s going off with Mrs. Rushworth very natural.
Miss Clewes’s objections much the same as Fanny’s.
Miss Lloyd preferred it altogether to either of the others – Delighted with Fanny. – Hated Mrs. Norris.
My Mother – not liked it so well as P. & P. – Thought Fanny insipid. – Enjoyed Mrs. Norris.
Cassandra – thought it quite as clever, tho’ not so brilliant, as P. & P. – Fond of Fanny. – Delighted much in Mr. Rushworth’s stupidity.
My Eldest Brother [James Austen] – a warm admirer of it in general. – Delighted with the Portsmouth Scene.
[James] Edward [Austen-Leigh] – Much like his Father. – Objected to Mrs. Rushworth’s Elopement as unnatural.
Mr. B[enjamin] L[efroy] – Highly pleased with Fanny Price – & a warm admirer of the Portsmouth Scene. – Angry with Edmund for not being in love with her, & hating Mrs. Norris for teazing her.
Miss Burdett – Did not like it so well as P. & P.
Mrs. James Tilson – Liked it better than P. & P.
Fanny Cage – did not much like it – not to be compared to P. & P. – nothing interesting in the Characters – Language poor. – Characters natural & well supported – Improved as it went on.
Mr. & Mrs. Cooke – very much pleased with it – particularly with the Manner in which the Clergy are treated. – Mr. Cooke called it “the most sensible Novel he had ever read.” – Mrs. Cooke wished for a good Matronly Character.
Mary Cooke – quite as much pleased with it, as her Father & Mother; seemed to enter into Lady B[ertram]’s character, & enjoyed Mr. Rushworth’s folly. Admired Fanny in general; but thought she ought to have been more determined on overcoming her own feelings, when she saw Edmund’s attachment to Miss Crawford.
Miss Burrel – admired it very much – particularly Mrs. Norris & Dr. Grant.
Mrs. Bramstone – much pleased with it; particularly with the character of Fanny, as being so very natural. Thought Lady Bertram like herself. – Preferred it to either of the others – but imagined that might be her want of Taste – as she does not understand Wit.
Mrs. Augusta Bramstone – owned that she thought S. & S. – and P. & P. downright nonsense, but expected to like M. P. better, & having finished the 1st vol. – flattered herself she had got through the worst.
The families at Deane – all pleased with it. – Mrs. Anna Harwood delighted with Mrs. Norris & the green Curtain.
The Kintbury [Fowle] Family – very much pleased with it; – preferred it to either of the others.
Mr. Egerton the Publisher – praised it for it’s Morality, & for being so equal a Composition. – No weak parts.
Lady Robert Kerr wrote – “You may be assured I read every line with the greatest interest & am more delighted with it than my humble pen can express. The excellent delineation of Character, sound sense, Elegant Language & the pure morality with which it abounds, makes it a most desirable as well as useful work, & reflects the highest honour &c. &c.- Universally admired in Edinburgh, by all the wise ones. – Indeed, I have not heard a single fault given to it.”
Miss Sharpe – “I think it excellent – & of it’s good sense & moral Tendency there can be no doubt. – Your Characters are drawn to the Life – so very, very natural & just – but as you beg me to be perfectly honest, I must confess I prefer P. & P.”
Mrs. Carrick. – “All who think deeply & feel much will give the Preference to Mansfield Park.”
Mr. J. Plumptre. – “I never read a novel which interested me so very much throughout, the characters are all so remarkably well kept up & so well drawn, & the plot is so well contrived that I had not an idea till the end which of the two would marry Fanny, H. C[rawford] or Edmund. Mrs. Norris amused me particularly, & Sir Thomas is very clever, & his conduct proves admirably the defects of the modern system of Education.” – Mr. J. P. made two objections, but only one of them was remembered, the want of some character more striking & interesting to the generality of Readers, than Fanny was likely to be.
Sir James Langham & Mr. H. Sanford, – having been told that it was much inferior to P. & P. – began it expecting to dislike it, but were very soon extremely pleased with it – & I beleive, did not think it at all inferior.
Alethea Bigg. – “I have read M. P. & heard it very much talked of, very much praised. I like it myself & think it very good indeed, but as I never say what I do not think, I will add that, although it is superior in a great many points in my opinion to the other two Works, I think it has not the Spirit of P. & P., except perhaps the Price family at Portsmouth, & they are delightful in their way.”
Charles [Austen] – did not like it near so well as P. & P. – thought it wanted Incident.
Mrs. Dickson. – “I have bought M. P. — but it is not equal to P. & P.”
Mrs. Lefroy – liked it, but thought it a mere Novel.
Mrs. Portal – admired it very much – objected cheifly to Edmund’s not being brought more forward.
Lady Gordon wrote – “In most novels you are amused for the time with a set of Ideal People whom you never think of afterwards or whom you the least expect to meet in common life, whereas in Miss A—-‘s works, & especially in M. P. you actually live with them, you fancy yourself one of the family; & the scenes are so exactly descriptive, so perfectly natural, that there is scarcely an Incident, or conversation, or a person, that you are not inclined to imagine you have at one time or other in your Life been a witness to, borne a part in, & been acquainted with.”
Mrs. Pole wrote, – “There is a particular satisfaction in reading all Miss A—-‘s works – they are so evidently written by a Gentlewoman – most Novellists fail & betray themselves in attempting to describe familiar scenes in high Life; some little vulgarism escapes & shews that they are not experimentally acquainted with what they describe, but here it is quite different. Everything is natural, & the situations & incidents are told in a manner which clearly evinces the Writer to belong to the Society whose Manners she so ably delineates.” Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so much canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to some of their own friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly.
Admiral Foote – surprised that I had the power of drawing the Portsmouth-Scenes so well.
Mrs. Creed – preferred S. & S. and P. & P. – to Mansfield Park.
This list was first published in Jane Austen, The Minor Works, vol. 6 of The Works of Jane Austen, ed. R.W. Chapman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), 431-435
It’s so interesting to see what people thought of Mansfield Park at the time that Jane Austen wrote it. It shows that even at that time there were people who didn’t like Fanny, which just shows that it’s not really a matter of time. I also really like the description of Mrs. Bramstones oppinion, especially that she thought herself like Lady Bertram…
Two things I noticed reading the quotes:
1) Although there were some people who didn’t like Fanny (as Kira said in her comment) back then, there was also a large ammount of approval from others.
2) Pride and Prejudice seems to be the novel that appears the most besides Mansfield Park in these quotes. Was there this huge comparison between Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice because is was easy to compare and contrast the heroines, style, and “atmosphere” of the novel, or was in merely because only two novels (S&S and P&P) had been published prior to Mansfield Park (and therefore they didn’t have as much writing to compare the novel to).
I love hearing the different comments on her novels by the people close to her. They crack me up. My favorite is Cassandra’s:”Delighted much in Mr. Rushworth’s stupidity.” These two sisters must have had some similarities in personality and sense of humor…
The Norton edition sounds amazing, all the supplemental material is always so helpful. I own 4 Nortons (Howards End, Far from the Madding Crowd, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) and I always consider the background and criticism part as another book altogether, which I read later, sometimes long after the book itself.
“Mrs. Lefroy – liked it, but thought it a mere Novel.”
Very interesting, especially today when novels are by far the genre that sells the most. No wonder her defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey.
I must say I wouldn’t be quite at ease speaking to someone who “liked” Mrs Norris, it’s shocking in fact.
I like the way Jane doesn’t alter anything that’s been written about her or to her, she merely assembles people’s thoughts in one single place without any comments. I should have liked to hear what she thought of them, though, it might have been insightful as regards to ambiguous passages in the novel.
It was interesting to read the comments and compare them with my own. Overall, Mansfield Park seemed to almost always be compared with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and most people did prefer PP and SS to MP, as do I.
I have the Norton editions of four other Austen novels–I am missing Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. They are great at bringing out aspects of the book you may not even think of during your own reading. Even for die-hard fans, the explanatory footnotes and glosses are very helpful.
That was cool to be able to hear their thoughts of Jane’s Mansfield Park. They seemed to compare it alot to P&P and S&S or their liking of.
Thsi was my favorite: Mrs. Lefroy – liked it, but thought it a mere Novel.
Maybe it’s best sometimess not to have friends and relatives read and comment, lol.
My feelings about Mansfield Park have changed over the years. In my “younger” days I would have agreed with Mrs. Austen that Fanny was insipid; now, many years of marriage and motherhood later, I have become quite fond of Fanny. Her virtues and strengths, though sadly out of fashion these days, are truly admirable. My thoughts on Edmund have not varied much, though; I’ve always thought that Fanny was much too good for him. And Mrs. Norris, one of the most odious characters in Austen’s works, remains still, one of my favorites. I love Charles Austen’s comment that he “thought it wanted Incident;” it sounds like such a guy thing to say!
I’m in the middle of rereading Mansfield Park for anywhere between the third and fifth time. I bought my copy in paperback in the summer of 1986, and the cover has already come off during this reading.
What has been striking me particularly this time about Mansfield Park is the fact that everything is known to the reader while nothing is spoken. I’m at the point just when Sir Thomas is planning a ball for Fanny, about halfway thorugh. I know Edmund loves Mary, Mary loves Edmund with conditions, both Bertram daughters loved Henry, and of course Fanny loves Edmund. I think the feelings of the characters are more blatant to the reader than in other novels, yet Austen manages to make everything obvious without the characters themselves saying anything. The heroine does not always love the hero consistently through a novel, or if she does (as in S&S and Persuasion) she attempts to move on when hope is apparently lost. And just compare it to Emma, where the reader is much more in the dark about the feelings of characters, and Austen throws up many red herrings. The artistry in Mansfield Park is in how well we know each character’s feelings without them having to say a thing.
Funniest quote, in my opinion:
“George interested by nobody but Mary Crawford”.
It’s quite interesting to hear what everyone said to Jane Austen…Mary Cooke’s comment was very good, I think. (When she said “Admired Fanny in general; but thought she ought to have been more determined on overcoming her own feelings, when she saw Edmund’s attachment to Miss Crawford.”)
I never really thought about it like that…Or maybe that’s just because I knew Fanny and Edmund would get together in the end!