In Mansfield Park, the wealthy Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram decide to take in the ten-year old daughter of Lady Bertram’s impecunious sister, Mrs. Price. This was not an unusual procedure in Jane Austen’s time. One of Jane Austen’s own brothers was adopted by some of his father’s wealthy relations. Thomas and Catherine Knight were childless and took an interest in Edward Austen, the third child of George and Cassandra Austen. At the age of twelve, he went to live with them. He inherited their family estates including Godmersham and, in compliance with a stipulation in Catherine Knight’s will, he changed his legal name to Knight in 1812. Four years after George Austen’s death, Edward made some improvements to Chawton Cottage and offered it to his mother and sisters. It was at Chawton that Jane Austen prepared Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication and wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. Edward married Elizabeth Bridges in 1791. They had eleven children. Their eldest, Fanny Catherine, was one of Jane Austen’s favorite nieces.
With four children of his own, Sir Thomas was, of course, not going to make Fanny Price his heir. However, he fully intended that, if Fanny was unable to obtain a creditable establishment through marriage, to secure her “the provision of a gentlewoman” (ch. 1). He also assisted Mrs. Price “liberally in the education and disposal of her sons” (ch. 2) and eventually takes in Fanny’s sister Susan (when she was fourteen). “In her usefulness, in Fanny’s excellence, in William’s continued good conduct and rising fame, and in the general well-doing and success of the other members of the family, all assisting to advance each other, and doing credit to his countenance and aid, Sir Thomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated, reason to rejoice in what he had done for them all” (ch. 48).