“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