Mrs. 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.”
“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!