Mansfield Park is a home of propriety, order, and consideration. When faced with the chaotic contrast of her parents’ home, Fanny Price thinks how, “[a]t Mansfield, no sounds of contention, no raised voice, no abrupt bursts, no tread of violence, was ever heard; all proceeded in a regular course of cheerful orderliness; everybody had their due importance; everybody’s feelings were consulted” (ch. 39). Despite its advantages, however, Mansfield Park is lacking is a very important virtue — joy.
Although orderly and well-bred, Mansfield Park is too solemn. Looking back at his failures as a parent, Sir Thomas realizes that, in attempting to counteract Mrs. Norris’s “excessive indulgence and flattery” by his own severity, he had taught his children “to repress their spirits in his presence so as to make their real disposition unknown to him” (ch. 48). This makes the young people at Mansfield particularly susceptible to the influence of the lively, worldly Crawfords. When Sir Thomas leaves Mansfield Park, his daughters, feel “relieved by [his absence] from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach” (ch. 3).
In his book, Miniatures and Morals, Peter J. Leithart observes, “The Crawfords’ desire for entertainment, their need for amusement, their impatience with old ways and their eagerness always to be attempting some novelty infects the rest of the young people at Mansfield Park.” This is the more easily done because of the void in their lives. In the absence of good, evil gained a foothold.
Consideration and sobriety are virtues, but so is joy — and it is every bit as important.
Miniatures and Morals, by Peter J. Leithart (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004), p. 120.