Today is the last day of May, but it is not the end of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial year. This is a guest post by “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter. She is writing several more guest posts in celebration of Mansfield Park’s bicentennial, which will be posted throughout June. Also check out other continuing celebrations.

Each time I read Mansfield Park, I am disappointed that Fanny and Henry do not marry. Henry is charming and lively, and becomes down-right attractive when he starts to take life seriously. Fanny and he really seem to make a good couple. Austen took care that her readers would feel this way.

22nd copyThe first glimpse of this is after the proposal, when the family is sitting in the drawing room after dinner. Henry reads aloud, and his reading is so compelling that all Fanny’s determination to ignore him fails her, and her eyes are fixed on him. “His acting had first taught Fanny the pleasure a play might give, and his reading brought all his acting before her again . . . with greater enjoyment.”1 Considering that Fanny’s pleasures in life were few, shared literary taste was a strong tie.

Afterwards, when Fanny talks over Henry’s proposal with Edmund, he says, “[Henry] is lively, you are serious; but so much the better: his spirits will support yours.”2 Although the remark stems from Edmund’s infatuation with Mary, we at once see the justice of it. Fanny needs someone who can make her laugh and can help her stand up to the Aunt Norrises of the world. And Henry needs someone whose sobriety and stability could keep him from the errors of hasty action. Their temperaments complement each other.

In Portsmouth, Fanny discovers that Henry shares her love of nature: “They often stopt with the same sentiment and taste, . . . he was sufficiently open to the charms of nature, and very well able to express his admiration.”3 Fanny had often felt that others did not share her fascination, and that Edmund was her only companion in this, but in Henry she found another sympathizer.

While talking together, Henry points out to Fanny that they have a common interest in the poor. While her interest stems chiefly from compassion, his is steadied by a sense of justice and good management. “It was pleasing to hear him speak so properly; here he had been acting as he ought to do. To be the friend of the poor and the oppressed! Nothing could be more grateful to her . . .”4

Henry also shows during his visit to Portsmouth that he would work well with Fanny’s family. He respects them even when they are not respectable, and shows an instinctive delicacy towards Fanny’s feelings regarding them. When he is gone, Fanny reflects how much she would like to be able to invite her sister to live with her, and she “could fancy his entering into a plan of that sort most pleasantly.”5

Paradoxically, Austen takes as many pains before Henry’s proposal to prove that Fanny and Henry were ill-suited, as she takes afterward to prove them well-suited. And then she turns and destroys the castle in the air that she was building.

* * *

1Chapter XXXIV

2Chapter XXX, I am not suggesting that spouses are morally responsible for the actions of each other, only that good couples are better together than apart. Good couples grow together in great part by helping each other grow.

3Chapter XLI


5Chapter XLIV

Lovers’ Vows

“Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play …” (Ch. 13)

Lovers’ Vows is a play by Elizabeth Inchbald. She adapted it from the German play Das Kind der Liebe (literally “Child of Love” or “Love Child”) by August von Kotzebue. It was first performed in 1798 at Covent Garden and was successful, though some considered it too risqué.

Lovers' VowsThe story begins with Agatha being thrown out of an inn because she can no longer pay. A soldier comes across her and gives her the very little money he has. Agatha recognizes him as her son Frederick, who has been away  in the army for five years. He has come for his birth certificate which he finds he needs to gain employment. Sorrowfully, Agatha tells him that he has no birth certificate, for he is illegitimate. She tells him how she was seduced by the Baron Wildenhaim. Instead of fulfilling his promise to marry her, the Baron marries another woman. Agatha was turned out of her home and struggled to bring up her son on her own. Frederick leaves his mother with some generous Cottagers and goes to beg for money. Coming across a hunting party, he begs of them and, not receiving enough money for his mother’s wants, draws his sword and attempts to rob one of them and gets arrested.

The man Frederick attempted to rob was Baron Wildenhaim. He is trying to get his daughter Amelia to marry Count Cassel, a stupid, dissolute man. The Baron asks Amelia’s tutor Anhalt, a chaplain, to discuss marriage with her. Unknown to him, however, Anhalt and Amelia are in love. Amelia takes the opportunity to force a declaration of love from Anhalt. They are interrupted by the “rhyming Butler” who tells them in verse of Frederick’s arrest. The Baron insists that Frederick must be punished as an example, but Amelia takes pity on him and brings him “a basket of provisions”. From her, Frederick learns the identity of the man he attempted to rob and requests a private interview with the Baron.

Amelia has learned of Count Cassel’s dissolute behaviour and reveals it to her father who confronts him. The Count readily admits to having made promises of marriage to other women and points out that “if every man, who deserves to have a charge such as this brought against him, was not permitted to look up—; it is a doubt whom we might not meet crawling on all fours”. Reminded of his own behaviour to Agatha, the Baron is embarrassed. Amelia tells her father of her love for Anhalt. Anhalt tells the Baron of Fredericks wish for an interview. Frederick reveals his relationship to the Baron and then leaves. Anhalt goes to Agatha and explains how the Baron came to marry another woman. Persuaded by Anhalt, the Baron agrees that he must marry Agatha despite her low social position. He also allows Anhalt and Amelia to marry, despite Anhalt’s poverty. Everyone is reconciled.

In Mansfield Park, the characters were cast as follows:

Baron Wildenhaim … John Yates
Count Cassel … James Rushworth
Anhalt … Edmund Bertram
Frederick … Henry Crawford
Verdun the Butler … Tom Bertram

Agatha Friburg … Maria Bertram
Amelia Wildenhaim … Mary Crawford
Cottager’s Wife … Mrs. Grant

Elizabeth InchbaldElizabeth Inchbald lived from 1753 to 1821. She was an English actress, playwright, and novelist. She was born Elizabeth Simpson, one of the nine children of John and Mary Simpson. The family was Roman Catholic. Elizabeth’s brother George became an actor in 1770, and when she was 19 she went to London to act. In 1772, she married the actor Joseph Inchbald. They travelled with a theatre company. After her husband’s death in 1779, Elizabeth continued to act. She wrote many plays, including Lovers’ Vows, and two novels. She quarreled with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 when it was discovered that Mary had not been married to her daughter Fanny’s father. Elizabeth died in August 1821 in Kensington.

August von KotzebueAugust von Kotzebue had a rather dramatic life (pun intended). He was a German dramatist and writer and lived from 1761 to 1819. He also worked as a consul in Russia and Germany. As a young man he studied legal science. After graduating in 1780, he practiced law in Weimer. He then became secretary to a Governor General in Russia. He married the daughter of a Russian lieutenant general in 1783. His first literary works were well received. His first wife died in 1790 and Kotzebue left Russia. He was appointed dramatist to the court theatre in Vienna in 1798, but the position did not last long. He returned to Germany, but had troubles there due to disagreements with Goethe as he had attacked the romantic style which Goethe was known for. In 1800 he tried to return to Saint Petersburg, but was arrested on suspicion of being a Jacobin and was transported to Siberia. He was rescued by Tsar Paul I of Russia and was appointed director of the German theatre in Saint Petersburn. After the Tsar’s assassination, Kotzebue returned to Germany. After Napoleon’s victory in 1806, he fled back to Russia. Beethoven suggested that Kotzebue write libretto for an opera, which never ended up being written. However Beethoven composed music for two of Kotzebue’s plays. His famous “Turkish March” was originally written for Kotzebue’s play Ruin of Athens. Eventually he returned to German as consul general for Russia. He was disliked by nationalist liberals due to his writings against Germans who wanted free institutions. On March 18, 1819, soon after moving to Mannheim with his family (he had eighteen children), he was murdered in his own home by one of the national liberalists, Karl Ludwig Sand.

Symbolism in Mansfield Park

In discussing Jane Austen’s craft in his book A Fine Brush on Ivory, Richard Jenkyns observes that in Mansfield Park she “experiments with touches of symbolism and develops a new sense of the significance of place”.1

1 Wilderness

Her exploration of the significance of place and area is most strikingly visible in the visit to Sotherton, where she makes her experiment with what one is bound to call symbolism. The lawn enclosed by a wall, Mary Crawford wanting to pass beyond the door in the wall and finding it unlocked, her leading the way into the ‘wilderness’ beyond and talking with Edmund there (and making an explicit comparison with the metaphorical ‘wilderness’ of a lawyer’s profession) — the symbolic force of these things needs no explication. Christ was tempted in the wilderness, as were the Israelites before him, and Mary acts the temptress’s part, pressing Edmund to abandon him plan to become a clergyman. In the next chapter the symbolism is plainer still. Henry tells Maria that she has ‘a very smiling scene’ before her. ‘Do you mean literally or figuratively?’ Maria replies, preparing us for the fusion of literal and figurative in the episode that follows. Maria continues, ‘Yes, certainly the sun shines and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. I cannot get out, as the starling said.’ Rushworth has the key, and is slow in bringing it. Henry questions whether she needs Rushworth’s authority and protection, and suggests that with his own help she could get around the edge of the gate and allow herself ‘to think it not prohibited’.2

This symbolism works because “Henry is fully conscious of it, and Maria at least partly so. It is not imposed from the outside, but developed by the characters themselves: it is part of Henry’s apparatus of flirtation, his testing of Maria to see how far she might go.”3

2 Key and Gate 3 Key and Gate


1 A Fine Brush on Ivory, by Richard Jenkyns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 95.

2 Ibid. pp. 145-46

3 Ibid. pp. 146-47


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.


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.

H.M. Brock Sotherton Mansfield ParkThe 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.