Mansfield Park has the dubious distinction of being disliked by more of Jane Austen's fans than any of her other novels, even to the point of spawning "Fanny Wars" in internet discussion forums. Its themes are very different from those of her other books, which can generally be simplified into one sentence, or even one phrase: Sense and Sensibility is about balancing emotions and thought, Pride and Prejudice is about judging others too quickly, Emma is about growing into adulthood, and Persuasion is about second chances. The theme of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, can not be so easily described. Is it about ordination? Is it an allegory on Regency England? Is it about slavery? Is it about the education of children? Is it about the difference between appearances and reality? Is it about the results of breaking with society's morés? Any, or all of those themes can, and have been applied to Mansfield Park.
The major problem for most of the novel's detractors is the lead character, Fanny Price. She is shy, timid, lacking in self-confidence, physically weak, and seemingly—to some, annoyingly—always right. Austen's own mother called her "insipid", and many have used the word "priggish". She is certainly not like the lively and witty Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.
But Mansfield Park also has many supporters, whose admiration and loyalty can be attributed to the depth and complexity of the themes in the book and to the main character—a young woman who is unlike most heroines found in literature.
One thing is certain, this novel is not like Jane Austen's others. The girl-gets-boy plot of her other work is mostly absent here, and the heroine's success in finding love is treated briefly, quickly, and for many readers—especially those who expected something like the romantic Pride and Prejudice—unsatisfactorily. Only in the final chapter—essentially the epilogue—does Fanny get the love she deserves. The story and themes of Mansfield Park are, therefore, not as closely tied with the heroine's road to marital bliss as in Austen's other novels.
Jane Austen began planning Mansfield Park in February of 1811 and finished it in the summer of 1813. It was published on May 4, 1814 and was Austen's third published novel; though, as with all of her novels, her name was not attached to it until after her death.
This was also the first of her novels which was not a revision of an earlier work. Elinor and Marianne was probably written in 1795 and finally revised and published as Sense and Sensibility in late 1811. First Impressions was written between 1796-97, and was finally published in 1813 as Pride and Prejudice. Mansfield Park, therefore, was conceived from its very beginning by a more mature Jane Austen than the previous two novels—written, as they were, first by the young Austen (~ 20 years old) and then the older Austen (~ 36). By the time Jane Austen began planning and writing Mansfield Park she had passed through her eligible years and, at 36, into confirmed spinsterhood.
Chapter descriptions are designed to be very vague and cryptic. They are for people who are familiar with the book to help them find the chapter they want, and they are not designed for the student who might be looking for a quick way to get out of reading the novel.
Below, and on the individual pages, there are two sets of chapter numbers. One set reflects the fact that the novel was originally published in three volumes with each volume beginning with Chapter 1. The other set has the chapters numbered in order from beginning to end. Thus, "Volume III, Chapter 4" and "Chapter 35" are the same.
- Chapter I — The Ward sisters marry. Mrs. Norris suggests an act of charity, Sir Thomas agrees.
- Chapter II — The ten-year-old arrives in the big house and meets her cousins. Edmund is reassuring, and a letter to William will help put her at ease. The Bertram girls think their cousin is very stupid.
- Chapter III — The Mansfield living passes to Dr. Grant. Will Mrs. Norris take Fanny with her? No, of course not. Sir Thomas and Tom leave for Antigua to take care of business.
- Chapter IV — The Miss Bertrams go husband hunting, with Mrs. Norris acting as their scout. Edmund gets Fanny a horse. Tom returns, and Mr. Rushworth woos Tom's sister and wins her. Mr. and Miss Crawford join their sister at the parsonage.
- Chapter V — The brother was not handsome; he was absolutely plain, black and plain. He was also a flirt and learned from a bad example, but he grows on the Miss Bertrams. Is Miss Price out?
- Chapter VI — Mr. Rushworth discusses improving Sotherton, including changing the avenue. Miss Price would like to see it before the changes. Miss Crawford has difficulty finding a cart to carry her harp. To Sotherton they shall go.
- Chapter VII — Edmund and Fanny discuss Miss Crawford, who they find charming, but there is something lacking. Edmund is enamored. Mary borrows Fanny's horse and is very late in returning it. Fanny gets a headache after cutting roses in the sun and walking twice to the parsonage, and because someone had been riding her horse.
- Chapter VIII — How shall they get to Sotherton? Fanny gets to go too. Who will get to ride with Mr. Crawford? The scenery on the way there is very nice.
- Chapter IX — Mrs. Rushworth shows off the house to her guests. They visit the chapel, and Edmund's future profession is discussed. They leave the house to view the grounds. Miss Crawford believes a clergyman is nothing.
- Chapter X — Miss Price is left all alone. Two people come by; a locked gate bars the way, but they find their way around it and go off on their own, another follows, and the key arrives too late. Fanny was left a whole hour.
- Chapter XI — Sir Thomas writes he is coming home. His eldest daughter is not joyful at the news. Miss Crawford again discusses Edmund's career with him. Such men do nothing but eat, drink, and grow fat; Fanny and Edmund say otherwise.
- Chapter XII — Miss Crawford prefers the wrong Bertram brother. Hunting season, and Tom returns. Fanny is critical of Mr. Crawford and thinks he is flirting with the wrong Bertram sister, while others think he is courting the right one.
- Chapter XIII — Mr. Yates is at Mansfield Park and brings with him theatrical ideas. A play's the thing! Edmund objects, but Tom outranks him.
- Chapter XIV — What play should it be? It must have the right number of parts to suit everyone. Casting begins. The play has two female roles, but there are three ladies to fill them; one must be left out.
- Chapter XV — Edmund thinks the choice of play is bad and argues against his sister's part in it. Fanny will not act.
- Chapter XVI — Edmund is forced to take a part. Does Fanny agree with his decision?
- Chapter XVII — Julia is not pleased with the arrangements or Mr. Crawford.
- Chapter XVIII — Rehearsals and sets progress. Miss Crawford asks Fanny for help, Edmund joins them. Sir Thomas is home.
- Chapter I (19) — Sir Thomas warmly greets his family and Fanny. They sit around the fire and listen to his tales. Sir Thomas sees what they have been doing and is not pleased.
- Chapter II (20) — Sir Thomas lays much of the blame on the Aunt, and she is proud of Rushworth. Maria hopes to exchange one man for another, but nothing comes of it. Crawford leaves Mansfield for Bath.
- Chapter III (21) — Fanny must learn to be looked at, and she asks Sir Thomas about a certain trade. Sir Thomas gets better acquainted with Mr. Rushworth and is not pleased. Maria tells her father she likes the man. It was a very proper wedding.
- Chapter IV (22) — Fanny gets caught in the rain and goes into the parsonage. Miss Crawford plays the harp. I had not imagined a country parson ever aspired to a shrubbery. Mary is better reconciled to a country residence. There is nobleness in the name of Edmund. He wishes only not to be poor.
- Chapter V (23) — But why should Mrs. Grant ask Fanny to dine? Mrs. Norris thinks it a great indulgence. Sir Thomas has the carriage brought round. Crawford has returned and looks back on the theatricals with pleasure; he also wishes to hear his friend's first sermon.
- Chapter VI (24) — Crawford tells his sister he shall begin a new flirtation. William Price is in England again and comes to visit his sister. Henry extends his stay and his interest in a lady.
- Chapter VII (25) — A game of Speculation. Edmund and Crawford discuss Thornton Lacey. Sir Thomas notices a gentleman's attentions. William would like to dance with his sister.
- Chapter VIII (26) — Sir Thomas decides to have a ball. Fanny would like to wear her cross, but has no chain to put it on. Miss Crawford gives her a present.
- Chapter IX (27) — Edmund gives his cousin a token of his friendship, and thinks she must keep Mary's gift. William gets an invitation to ride to town with Henry and meet the Admiral. Edmund gets a partner for the first two dances. Everyone is ready to dance.
- Chapter X (28) — The ball begins, and Fanny is gratified to have a partner. She is to lead the way. The evening afforded Edmund little pleasure, as more was said disparaging the clergy.
- Chapter XI (29) — Breakfast comes, and William goes. Edward is off to his ordination. With all the men gone, Mary is bored and Fanny relieved.
- Chapter XII (30) — Crawford returns and tells his sister he has found the women he will marry. Mary is happy to hear it.
- Chapter XIII (31) — Henry brings news of William's promotion, and his role in it. He states his feelings to his love. Fanny receives and sends a note to Mary.
- Chapter I (32) — Sir Thomas visits the East Room to talk to Fanny.
- Chapter II (33) — He will not take no for an answer, and Sir Thomas is encouraging. The aunts are told.
- Chapter III (34) — Edmund returns. Henry reads Shakespeare after dinner. Public speaking, sermons and liturgy are discussed.
- Chapter IV (35) — Edmund and Fanny talk things over. The ladies of the parsonage are not happy with Miss Price.
- Chapter V (36) — Perhaps a little more time will change her mind. Fanny and Mary meet again in the East Room. Mary discusses the friends she is going to visit. The truth of Mary's necklace.
- Chapter VI (37) — Fanny does not miss the Crawfords. Lieutenant Price comes to Mansfield Park, but is out of uniform. Fanny is happy to go to her parents'.
- Chapter VII (38) — A happy trip to Portsmouth. Home at last. The Thrush has gone out of harbour. Betsey has a silver knife.
- Chapter VIII (39) — You can't go home again. Noise and confusion. William and Sam go to sea.
- Chapter IX (40) — A letter from Mary with no little offering of love at the end. Susan becomes a friend. Another silver knife. Fanny joins a library.
- Chapter X (41) — Henry comes to visit the Prices. They all take a walk to the dock-yard.
- Chapter XI (42) — Crawford joins them and goes to church. He offers to take Fanny to Mansfield in his carriage. Should he go home to take care of business? He knows what he ought to do.
- Chapter XII (43) — Mary writes that Mrs. Rushworth's first party was a success, and to offer her brother's carriage again. A party will keep Henry from Everingham.
- Chapter XIII (44) — Edmund finally writes. He tells of his dissatisfaction. She is the only woman in the world whom he could ever think of. Tom Bertram is ill.
- Chapter XIV (45) — Tom is back at Mansfield, and his brother takes care of him. Fanny knows where her home is. Miss Crawford would like to hear of Tom's condition.
- Chapter XV (46) — A most scandalous, ill-natured rumour has just reached Mary. Mr. Price reads the newspaper. Edmund writes with the particulars, and to say he is coming for the Price sisters. Fanny is happy to be busy and to be headed for Mansfield with her sister.
- Chapter XVI (47) — The whole truth is known. Edmund describes his meeting with Miss Crawford; the charm is broken, his eyes are opened.
- Chapter XVII (48) — Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery (but Sir Thomas was longest to suffer.) Everyone gets what they deserve.
Lovers Vows': Read the play which is the focal point for much of the first volume of Mansfield Park. Includes a synopsis, an analysis with respect to Mansfield Park, and a cast list.
Fanny's Tears: Fanny has often been accused of always being in tears. Here is a list of the times she actually is.
Tirocinium: This is a poem by Cowper which is mentioned in Vol. III Ch. 14. The poem focuses on the way boys should be educated, and it is instructive to see how Jane Austen uses similar themes in Mansfield Park. An analysis of the poem with respect to Mansfield Park and the poem itself can be found here.
Mansfield Park: This is a website dedicated to Mansfield Park and includes a number of essays on the characters and the themes of the novel, as well as links to other Jane Austen and Mansfield Park resources.
Prepared by Ann Haker. © 2000 Copyright held by the author.