Character Sketches, Part I

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 24, 2009, 8:13 PM

Miss Fanny Price: The heroine of Mansfield Park. She is the eldest daughter of Lieutenant and Mrs. Price and the niece of Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris. When she is ten years old she is moved to Mansfield Park, the home of her uncle, Sir Thomas, where she grows up. She has “good sense, and a sweet temper, and … a grateful heart.” She is often ill-used, but, though mortified, thinks “too lowly of her own claims to feel injured by it.” She is timid, with warm affections, and a patient temper. She has “beauty of face and figure, … graces of manner and goodness of heart,” as well as “gentleness, modesty, and sweetness” of character. “Then, her understanding was beyond every suspicion, quick and clear; and her manners were the mirror of her own modest and elegant mind”. She is “firm as a rock” in the “excellence of her principles.” She is courted by Henry Crawford, but is in love with her cousin Edmund, the only one of the Bertrams who takes the trouble to be actively kind to her.

The Bertrams & Norrises:

Sir Thomas Bertram: Married Miss Maria Ward. Father of Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. He is “a truly anxious father” though “not outwardly affectionate”, his reserve of manner represses the flow of his children’s spirits before him. He is uncle to Fanny Price and he takes her in, “fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron” of her. He has a “high sense of honour and decorum” and is described as “ all that was clever and good”.

Lady Bertram: Formerly Miss Maria Ward, she married Sir Thomas Bertram. She is the sister of Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Price. “She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa … thinking more of her pug than her children”, yet with “ the sweetest of all sweet tempers”, “guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister.” “Lady Bertram did not think deeply, but, guided by Sir Thomas, she thought justly on all important points.”

Tom Bertram: Eldest son of Sir Thomas Bertram. He is “careless and extravagant” until he falls gravely ill and his sister runs away. He “gradually regained his health, without regaining the thoughtlessness and selfishness of his previous habits….He became what he ought to be: useful to his father, steady and quiet, and not living merely for himself.”

Edmund Bertram: The hero of Mansfield Park. He is the second son of Sir Thomas and is Fanny Price’s cousin. He is to be a clergyman. He is a young man of “upright principles, unsuspicious temper, and genuine strength of feeling.” He is the only one in his family that goes out of his way to be kind to Fanny. He falls in love with Mary Crawford. After his eyes are opened to Mary’s true character, he falls in love with Fanny.

Maria Bertram: Eldest daughter of Sir Thomas. She is a young woman of “high spirit and strong passions.” She marries Mr. Rushworth, “being prepared for matrimony by an hatred of home, restraint, and tranquillity; by the misery of disappointed affection, and contempt of the man she was to marry.” She later runs away from her husband with Mr. Henry Crawford, the man she loves. She lives with him until persuaded that he will not marry her. Her father then forms an establishment for her “remote and private.”

Julia Bertram: The second daughter and youngest child of Sir Thomas. She is “quite as eager for novelty and pleasure as Maria, though she might not have struggled through so much to obtain them, and could better bear a subordinate situation.“ She has an easier temper than her sister and “her feelings, though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence.” She elopes with Mr. Yates, but, later, “was humble, and wishing to be forgiven.”

The Rev. Norris: The husband of Mrs. Norris (née Miss Ward). He is a friend of Sir Thomas Bertram’s, “with scarcely any private fortune,” but Sir Thomas is “happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield.” Continuing rector of Mansfield, he dies when Fanny is fifteen.

Mrs. Norris: Formerly Miss Ward, she is the elder sister of Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price. She moves from Mansfield Parsonage to the White House when her husband, the Rev. Mr. Norris, dies. She encourages Sir Thomas to undertake the care of Fanny, but has “not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance,” and is, in fact, actively unkind to her. Nobody “knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing.” She loves to direct, dictate, and “fancy herself useful,” but, when “really touched by affliction, her active powers” are “all benumbed.” She is very fond of her niece Maria and helps arrange for her marriage to Mr. Rushworth. She removes from Mansfield after Maria Rushworth leaves Henry Crawford to “devote herself to her unfortunate Maria,” leaving “bitter remembrances behind her.”

Character Sketches:
Part I: Fanny Price, the Bertrams, & the Norrises
Part II: The Prices
Part III: The Grants & the Crawfords; The Rushworths & Mr. Yates
Part IV: Other Characters
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My Favorite Novel

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 10, 2009, 12:12 PM

YES, I’m in love, I feel it now,
And Cælia has undone me;
And yet I’ll swear I can’t tell how
The pleasing plague stole on me.
1

Why is Mansfield Park my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels? To quote from the book: “Nothing could be more impossible than to answer such a question, though nothing could be more agreeable than to have it asked.” 2 How “the pleasing plague stole on me” I could not say. 3 However, I will attempt to list a few reasons.

It is possibly the most profound and complex of Jane Austen’s writings. Of all her novels, I have found it to be the one with the most doubtful ending. In the words of Mr. J. Plumptre, “I never read a novel which interested me so very much throughout, the characters are all so remarkably well kept up & so well drawn, & the plot is so well contrived that I had not an idea till the end which of the two would marry Fanny, H. C[rawford] or Edmund.” 4 Jane Austen wrote of her brother Henry’s opinion of her book, “Henry has this moment said that he likes my M. P. better & better ; he is in the 3d* volume. I beleive now he has changed his mind as to foreseeing the end; he said yesterday at least, that he defied anybody to say whether H. C. would be reformed, or would forget Fanny in a fortnight.” 5 While, as far back as I can remember, I have always known how the book ended, it still interests me every time I read it to think how it could have ended. As far as I can recall, it is the only novel in which Jane Austen tells us how it would have ended had something else happened. I find the possible alternative ending intriguing.

The characters in Mansfield Park are intricate, and, as Lizzy Bennet tells us, “intricate characters are the most amusing.  They have at least that advantage.” 6Their intricacy builds the complexity of the book, the doubtfulness of the ending. How will such a character act under these circumstances? Sir Thomas is upright and generous, yet he fails to bring up his daughters well. Miss Crawford is charming, yet she is morally corrupt. Mr. Crawford is unscrupulous, yet he almost reforms. Mrs. Norris is detestable in her cruelty, yet she “would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income” 7 than Fanny’s mother is. These are not flat characters.

And there are the amusing characters: the buffoonish Mr. Rushworth, the gourmand, Dr. Grant, who “brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week” 8, and even Mrs. Norris, who “consoled herself for the loss of her husband by considering that she could do very well without him.” 9 Mansfield Park is, perhaps, one of the least comic of her novels, but Jane Austen seems to never have ceased viewing life with a sense of humor and irony.

Fanny Price herself is wonderful to study. Her patience under mistreatment, her timidity, diffidence, discernment, tenderheartedness, gentleness, loyalty, fortitude, and vulnerability, all unite to give her a depth and complexity that has the capability of delighting anyone who, like Elizabeth Bennet, is “a studier of character.” 10 Richard Jenkyns, in his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, comments, “Most of those who know Jane Austen best appear to regard Mansfield Park as a masterpiece, a deep book.” 11 He declares that it “is not far from being a perfect novel” 12 and that “the treatment of the heroine is masterly and profound.” 13

Fanny is much abused, not only by characters in the book, but also by critics. Perhaps I enjoy going against a popular opinion. There is a certain pleasure in defending someone. Not that Fanny doesn’t have her following of admirers, but of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, she is said to be the least liked. (Not necessarily a very low position, given the popularity of Jane Austen’s novels!)

Of course, I find all of Jane Austen’s novels delightful and fascinating, but these are a few of the reasons that Mansfield Park has come to be my favorite of her works.

References:

1. First verse of The Je Ne Scai Quoi by William Whitehead (1715-1785).

2. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXX.

3. Ibid.

4. From Jane Austen’s collected Opinions of “Mansfield Park” (These can be accessed at: http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/opmansfp.html)

5. Ibid.

6. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Chapter 9.

7. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter XXXIX.

8. Ibid. Chapter XLVIII

9. Ibid. Chapter III.

10. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Chapter 9.

11. A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004; Chapter 4, pages 93-94.

12. Ibid. Chapter 4, page 94.

13. Ibid.