“[T]he trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination” (Mansfield Park, Ch. 46)
Autumn is considered to be a theme in Jane Austen’s Persuasion — the last book she completed before her death. When its heroine Anne Elliot thinks she will have to leave for Bath in September, she grieves, thinking she will have “to forego all the influence so sweet and so sad of the autumnal months in the country” (ch. 5). Thankfully, she is called to stay with her sister Mary instead. Thus she is able to enjoy autumn in the country — and meet again Captain Wentworth, the man she had broken with eight years before, but still loves. She finds him still angry with her and courting another young woman. One day, walking out with them, her sister, and a few others, she thinks,
Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. (Ch. 10)
Her meditations are suspended while listening to a conversation between Captain Wentworth and the other young woman. “The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.” Eventually, of course, misunderstandings are overcome and Anne finds that her enduring love for Captain Wentworth is reciprocated.
I find it appropriate that Mansfield Park was published in the spring, for, if Persuasion is Jane Austen’s autumnal novel, it is Mansfield Park that most reminds me of spring. Like autumn, spring is a poetic season, and Fanny Price is one of Jane Austen’s most romantic heroines, with her true love for poetry and nature. When she is sent to Portsmouth to visit her family, she realizes that she is sacrificing the delight of watching the advance of spring in the country.
It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind, she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods. To be losing such pleasures was no trifle; to be losing them, because she was in the midst of closeness and noise, to have confinement, bad air, bad smells, substituted for liberty, freshness, fragrance, and verdure, was infinitely worse (Ch. 45)
In May, she joyfully returns to Mansfield Park.
Fanny had been everywhere awake to the difference of the country since February; but when they entered the Park her perceptions and her pleasures were of the keenest sort. It was three months, full three months, since her quitting it, and the change was from winter to summer. Her eye fell everywhere on lawns and plantations of the freshest green; and the trees, though not fully clothed, were in that delightful state when farther beauty is known to be at hand, and when, while much is actually given to the sight, more yet remains for the imagination. (Ch. 46)
Spring is a time of freshness and new beginnings, a time of beauty and of change. At Mansfield Park, Henry and Mary Crawford are offered a chance at a new life, the opportunity to change for the better. Mary falls in love with Edmund Bertram.
[W]ithout his being a man of the world or an elder brother, without any of the arts of flattery or the gaieties of small talk, he began to be agreeable to her. She felt it to be so, though she had not foreseen, and could hardly understand it; for he was not pleasant by any common rule: he talked no nonsense; he paid no compliments; his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity, which Miss Crawford might be equal to feel, though not equal to discuss with herself. (Ch. 7)
When Miss Crawford returns to London, she tells Fanny, “You have all so much more heart among you than one finds in the world at large. You all give me a feeling of being able to trust and confide in you, which in common intercourse one knows nothing of.” (Ch. 36). Like her brother, Mary feels the attractiveness and security of virtue and goodness. Henry Crawford falls in love with Fanny Price.
Henry Crawford had too much sense not to feel the worth of good principles in a wife, though he was too little accustomed to serious reflection to know them by their proper name; but when he talked of her having such a steadiness and regularity of conduct, such a high notion of honour, and such an observance of decorum as might warrant any man in the fullest dependence on her faith and integrity, he expressed what was inspired by the knowledge of her being well principled and religious. (Ch. 30)
While courting Fanny, Henry becomes more and more gentle, more considerate. Sadly, however, neither Henry nor Mary are ultimately willing to make the sacrifices needed to obtain this happiness. Mary alienates Edmund by her worldliness and inconsiderateness and Henry loses his chance to win Fanny by indulging his vanity in an attempt to win the smiles of another man’s wife, Maria Rushworth. He runs away with Maria, although they eventually separate. Both Henry and Mary long suffer regret, while Maria “must withdraw … to a retirement and reproach which could allow no second spring of hope or character.” (Ch. 48).