The beautiful details of Mansfield Park are one of the reasons I like it so much. Young Edmund ruling paper so that Fanny can write to her brother. The drawing of a ship hung on the wall in Fanny’s East room. The comings and goings in the wilderness at Sotherton. Fanny’s amber cross and neat gold chain. The noise of the Price home in Portsmouth. Susan’s silver knife. These details are significant. They show character. Jane Austen had a talent for taking the plain events of everyday life and showing their importance.
In the book he wrote with Steve Chandler, Two Guys Read Jane Austen, Terrence N. Hill observes this in a humorous way.
The chapters we just finished in Mansfield Park (8 through 15) are almost entirely concerned with the two smallish events in an English country neighborhood: the day’s outing to Sotherton (estate of the proposed groom of Maria Bertram) and the planning of an amateur home theatrical performance.
This is where Jane is fabulous — in these unexceptional events in country life. If these things were described to you as major events in a novel, you’d make a special point of noting the title just to make sure you didn’t pick it up by accident. And yet, Jane makes the incidents crackle with scheming and intrigue. As Nabokov points out, the Sotherton excursion is laid out like moves in a chess game.
Two Guys Read Jane Austen, by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill (Bandon, OR: Robert D. Reed Publishers, 2008), pp. 73-74.