Little Particulars

James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in his memoir of his aunt Jane Austen, “She certainly took a kind of parental interest in the beings whom she had created, and did not dismiss them from her thoughts when she had finished her last chapter. … She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people.” (Memoir of Jane Austen, Ch. 10) Fans of Jane Austen continue to be intrigued by the other side of the story and the what happened next? of her novels, provoking and encouraging the large and increasing number of Jane Austen fanfiction “with which the press now groans”1 (to use a quotation from Northanger Abbey). We are eager for more details.

Mrs. Norris 1983 Anna Massey

In his A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns points out the loveless state that Mansfield Park‘s Mrs. Norris is in. “Mrs. Norris has nobody to love her, or even to care for her. We never learn her Christian name; why should it ever be wanted?”2 In general, I agree with Mr. Jenkyns’s perspectives on Mansfield Park, but Mrs. Norris joins a multitude of unnamed characters in Jane Austen’s canon — the Rev. Mr. Norris, Mrs. Grant, Dr. Grant, Mr. Price (MP); Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Goddard, Mr. Weston (E); Mr. Allen, Mrs. Allen, General Tilney, Mrs. Morland (NA); Admiral Croft, Captain Harville, Mrs. Harville (P); Colonel Forster, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mrs. Gardiner, Lady Lucas (P&P); Colonel Brandon, Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Jennings (S&S); &c. — and I don’t see any reason to think that Jane Austen had some more significant reason for not giving Mrs. Norris a first name than she did in not giving one to any of these others.

Mrs. Norris 1999 Sheila Gish

Anyway, I have my own theory on Mrs. Norris’s name. I conjecture that it was Elizabeth. Children in Jane Austen’s stories were usually named after their parents and other relations. For example, Fanny Price has her mother’s name. Maria Bertram has her mother’s name. Tom Bertram is named for his father. In Emma, John and Isabella Knightley name their first son Henry after Isabella’s father, their second son John after his father, their daughter Bella must be named for her mother, George is named for his father’s brother, and baby Emma is named for her mother’s sister. Mrs. Weston’s name is Anne, and her little girl is named Anna. Jane Fairfax has her mother’s name. &c., &c.

Mrs. Price’s last two children, Charles and Betsey, were born after her reconciliation with her sisters. She already had a son Tom, so she couldn’t name another child after Sir Thomas. So, my theory is, she named Betsey after Mrs. Norris. Mrs. Norris, after all, ended up with much of “the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity” (ch. 1) as bringing Fanny to Mansfield, and she was Betsey’s godmother.3

Mrs. Norris 2007 Maggie O'Neill

And if no one else agrees with this theory, “the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own” (NA, Ch. 30). Well, not quite my own. In So You Think You Know Jane Austen?: A Literary Quizbook, John Sutherland and Deirdre Le Faye wrote, “Mrs Norris is the godmother of Betsey (an act following the reconciliation of the sisters), which perhaps indicates that Mrs Norris’s Christian name is Elizabeth. But she has never seen the child, nor sent her any gift.”4

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1 “Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans.” (Northanger Abbey, Ch. 5)

2 Richard Jenkyns, A Fine Brush on Ivory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), ch. 4, p. 98.

3 “‘Now, Susan,’ cried Mrs. Price, in a complaining voice, ‘now, how can you be so cross? You are always quarrelling about that knife. … Poor Mary little thought it would be such a bone of contention when she gave it me to keep, only two hours before she died. … It was the gift of her good godmother, old Mrs. Admiral Maxwell, only six weeks before she was taken for death. … My own Betsey’ (fondling her), ‘you have not the luck of such a good godmother. Aunt Norris lives too far off to think of such little people as you.’

“Fanny had indeed nothing to convey from aunt Norris, but a message to say she hoped that her god-daughter was a good girl, and learnt her book. There had been at one moment a slight murmur in the drawing-room at Mansfield Park about sending her a prayer-book; but no second sound had been heard of such a purpose. Mrs. Norris, however, had gone home and taken down two old prayer-books of her husband with that idea; but, upon examination, the ardour of generosity went off. One was found to have too small a print for a child’s eyes, and the other to be too cumbersome for her to carry about.” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 38)

4 John Sutherland and Deirdre Le Faye, So You Think You Know Jane Austen?: A Literary Quizbook (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), page 173.

Something Rather Considerable

Mrs. Norris H. M. BrockMrs. Norris is a skinflint. She talks generously, but when it comes to deeds, she is close-fisted. “As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends” (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, ch. 1).

Mrs. Norris was the one to suggest and forward “so expensive a charity” as Sir Thomas adopting Fanny, but, while “Sir Thomas was fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron of the selected child, … Mrs. Norris had not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance.” When Fanny’s brother William receives a promotion in the navy,

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself …. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable; that is, for her, with her limited means, for now it would all be useful in helping to fit up his cabin. She knew he must be at some expense, that he would have many things to buy, though to be sure his father and mother would be able to put him in the way of getting everything very cheap; but she was very glad she had contributed her mite towards it.”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only £10.”

William Price H. M. Brock“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!”

“Sir Thomas told me £10 would be enough.”

Mrs. Norris, being not at all inclined to question its sufficiency, began to take the matter in another point.

“It is amazing,” said she, “how much young people cost their friends, what with bringing them up and putting them out in the world! …. Now, here are my sister Price’s children; take them all together, I dare say nobody would believe what a sum they cost Sir Thomas every year, to say nothing of what I do for them.” (MP, ch. 31)

So, how much did the penny-pinching Mrs. Norris give William? What was her definition of “something rather considerable”? The sum is never revealed in Mansfield Park, but, in his Memoir of Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh (the son of her eldest brother, James, by his second wife, Mary Lloyd) records of his aunt: “She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people. In this traditionary way we learned … that the ‘considerable sum’ given by Mrs. Norris to William Price was one pound” (Memoir of Jane Austen , ch. 10). So, there you have it. Mrs. Norris’s great generosity extended to the immense sum of — one whole pound!

First Impressions of Mansfield Park

“How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” — Fanny Price (Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXII)

I was looking through some of my old school papers and came across some writing that I did about Mansfield Park when I was between ten and eleven years old. I’m not sure whether I was writing about the book or the 1983 miniseries — probably the miniseries. The writing is riddled with misspellings and other mistakes. Obviously, I meant that Miss Crawford was Henry’s sister. I wrote that Henry Crawford marries Maria, that Lady Bertram is emotional (I’m not sure what I thought that word meant), and that Fanny was energetic. I called Sir Thomas, Sir Bertran, and had the mistaken notion that Henry Crawford was handsome. Alas for human wisdom at ten!

Caraistics of Mansfield Park

Mrs. Aunt Noris          May 4, 19—

Aunt Noris is Fanny Prices’ Aunt. She always wants what is best for herself. She orders Fanny about. She thinks ordering people about make her look better. She is Selfish, Self-Centerd, Arrogent, and she is a Miser.

Example #1: Fanny is going to visit her Family. Her Aunt Noris (trying to make people think she cares about her sister, Fanny’s mother) thinks she might go with Fanny. But after Lady Bertram (Fanny’s other Aunt) reminds Aunt Noris that she must pay her own way back, Aunt Noris changes her mind imiditly. She does not care about her poor sister (Fanny’s mother). This shows that she is self-centerd. She is trying to make her living on her rich sister (Lady Bertran).

Mr. Henry Crawford          May 5, 19—

Mr. Crawford wants all girls to be in love with him. He flurts with one girl while a while ago he was asking Fanny to marry him. He is dishonist, unloyle, rich, and handsome. Girls think he is just wonderful. He ends up running away with a married girl. Her husband divorses her. Henry dicides to marry her instead of Fanny.

Miss Crawford          May 5, 19—

Miss Crawford is Henry’s brother. She is Fanny’s friend, but she diseeves Fanny. Most People are diseeved by her, but Fanny suspecs her of tricking her. She is kind, dishonest, beutifull, tricky, rich, Friendly, and funny.

Sir Bertran          May 6, 19—

Sir Bertran is Fanny’s Uncle. He is very rich. He has good judgement. He is kind and handsome. He maneges the Family estate very well. He loves his family and takes care of them.

Lady Bertran          May 6, 19—

” is Fanny’s Aunt and Sir Bertran’s wife. She kind, gental, beutiful, graceful, emotional, loving, lazy, and funny.

Fanny Price          May 7, 19—

Fanny Price is the main charectur in Mansfield Park. She is Kind, beutiful, graceful, emotional, loving, gental, loyal, Friendly, unselfish, and energetic. She loves to ride horses. She reads aloud to her Aunt, Lady Bertran. Her cousin, Edmund, reads aloud to her. She studies with him. She is always ready to do anything she can to help (even her Aunt Noris). She is obedient. She will obey anyone when she thinks they are right. Like Sir Bertran, her Uncle, she has good judgement. In the End Of the Story Fanny marries Edmund

Character Sketches, Part I

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 24, 2009, 8:13 PM

Miss Fanny Price: The heroine of Mansfield Park. She is the eldest daughter of Lieutenant and Mrs. Price and the niece of Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris. When she is ten years old she is moved to Mansfield Park, the home of her uncle, Sir Thomas, where she grows up. She has “good sense, and a sweet temper, and … a grateful heart.” She is often ill-used, but, though mortified, thinks “too lowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.” She is timid, with warm affections, and a patient temper. She has “beauty of face and figure, … graces of manner and goodness of heart,” as well as “gentleness, modesty, and sweetness” of character. “Then, her understanding was beyond every suspicion, quick and clear; and her manners were the mirror of her own modest and elegant mind”. She is “firm as a rock” in the “excellence of her principles.” She is courted by Henry Crawford, but is in love with her cousin Edmund, the only one of the Bertrams who takes the trouble to be actively kind to her.

The Bertrams & Norrises:

Sir Thomas Bertram: Married Miss Maria Ward. Father of Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. He is “a truly anxious father” though “not outwardly affectionate”, his reserve of manner represses the flow of his children’s spirits before him. He is uncle to Fanny Price and he takes her in, “fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron” of her. He has a “high sense of honour and decorum” and is described as “ all that was clever and good”.

Lady Bertram: Formerly Miss Maria Ward, she married Sir Thomas Bertram. She is the sister of Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price. “She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa … thinking more of her pug than her children”, yet with “ the sweetest of all sweet tempers”, “guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister.” “Lady Bertram did not think deeply, but, guided by Sir Thomas, she thought justly on all important points.”

Tom Bertram: Eldest son of Sir Thomas Bertram. He is “careless and extravagant” until he falls gravely ill and his sister runs away. He “gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits….He became what he ought to be: useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself.”

Edmund Bertram: The hero of Mansfield Park. He is the second son of Sir Thomas and is Fanny Price’s cousin. He is to be a clergyman. He is a young man of “upright principles, unsuspicious temper, and genuine strength of feeling.” He is the only one in his family that goes out of his way to be kind to Fanny. He falls in love with Mary Crawford. After his eyes are opened to Mary’s true character, he falls in love with Fanny.

Maria Bertram: Eldest daughter of Sir Thomas. She is a young woman of “high spirit and strong passions.” She marries Mr. Rushworth, “being prepared for matrimony by an hatred of home, restraint, and tranquillity; by the misery of disappointed affection, and contempt of the man she was to marry.” She later runs away from her husband with Mr. Henry Crawford, the man she loves. She lives with him until persuaded that he will not marry her. Her father then forms an establishment for her “remote and private.”

Julia Bertram: The second daughter and youngest child of Sir Thomas. She is “quite as eager for novelty and pleasure as Maria, though she might not have struggled through so much to obtain them, and could better bear a subordinate situation.“ She has an easier temper than her sister and “her feelings, though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence.” She elopes with Mr. Yates, but, later, “was humble, and wishing to be forgiven.”

The Rev. Norris: The husband of Mrs. Norris (née Miss Ward). He is a friend of Sir Thomas Bertram’s, “with scarcely any private fortune,” but Sir Thomas is “happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield.” Continuing rector of Mansfield, he dies when Fanny is fifteen.

Mrs. Norris: Formerly Miss Ward, she is the elder sister of Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price. She moves from Mansfield Parsonage to the White House when her husband, the Rev. Mr. Norris, dies. She encourages Sir Thomas to undertake the care of Fanny, but has “not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance,” and is, in fact, actively unkind to her. Nobody “knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing.” She loves to direct, dictate, and “fancy herself useful,” but, when “really touched by affliction, her active powers” are “all benumbed.” She is very fond of her niece Maria and helps arrange for her marriage to Mr. Rushworth. She removes from Mansfield after Maria Rushworth leaves Henry Crawford to “devote herself to her unfortunate Maria,” leaving “bitter remembrances behind her.”

Character Sketches:
Part I: Fanny Price, the Bertrams, & the Norrises
Part II: The Prices
Part III: The Grants & the Crawfords; The Rushworths & Mr. Yates
Part IV: Other Characters

The Beginning

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 17, 2009, 5:09 PM

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The beginning lines of Pride and Prejudice are famous. They are well-known, easily recognized, and often parodied. Less familiar, but still recognizable to most fans of Jane Austen are the first words of Mansfield Park.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward’s match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible:  Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugal felicity with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did it very thoroughly.  She could hardly have made a more untoward choice.  Sir Thomas Bertram had interest, which, from principle as well as pride–from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that were connected with him in situations of respectability, he would have been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram’s sister; but her husband’s profession was such as no interest could reach; and before he had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was the natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences.  Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer, which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such very disrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas as Mrs. Norris could not possibly keep to herself, put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerable period.

(Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter I)

Here we have three sisters. Their respective marriages and characters are shown. Miss Maria Ward makes a very good match, one which she is “at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to.” We are further told that she is “a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent.”

Her older sister, Miss Ward, makes a match that “when it came to the point, was not contemptible.” As for her character, she has “a spirit of activity.” This spirit leads to a breach between the sisters when she can “not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter” to her youngest sister.

The youngest sister is Miss Frances. She makes a thoroughly disobliging marriage–her husband has no fortune or education. Not only that, to save herself the trouble of dealing with her family’s remonstrances, she doesn’t tell them anything about it until after she marries him.

These three sisters will be further developed as the story continues, but we have clues to their characters right from the beginning. Lady Bertram (née Miss Maria Ward) is placid and indolent, Mrs. Norris (née Miss Ward) is active and angry, and Mrs. Price (née Miss Frances) avoids effort or inconvenience.

Throughout the story, the heroine, Fanny, is treated by each sister accordingly. Mrs. Price gets rid of the trouble of taking care of Fanny. Mrs. Norris actively represses and torments her, while Lady Bertram, though kindly, takes no effort to make her comfortable.

Mrs. Norris (Anna Massey) and Lady Bertram (Angela Pleasence). Images from Rosings.