Character Sketches, Part II

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 31, 2009, 8:43 AM

The Prices:

Lieutenant Mr. Price: A “lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions.” He marries Miss Frances Ward. Eleven years later he is “disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor.” He is Fanny’s father. “He did not want abilities but he had no curiosity, and no information beyond his profession; he read only the newspaper and the navy-list; he talked only of the dockyard, the harbour, Spithead, and the Motherbank; he swore and he drank, he was dirty and gross.”

Mrs. Price: Formerly Miss Frances Ward. Fanny’s mother, wife of Lieutenant Mr. Price, and the younger sister of Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. “Her days were spent in a kind of slow bustle; all was busy without getting on, always behindhand and lamenting it, without altering her ways.” Her favorite child is her eldest son: “William was her pride; Betsey her darling; and John, Richard, Sam, Tom, and Charles occupied all the rest of her maternal solicitude.” “Her daughters never had been much to her,” except Betsey. “To her she was most injudiciously indulgent.” She is “ a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end, and who had no talent, no conversation”.

William Price: Eldest child of Lieutenant and Mrs. Price. He joins the Royal Navy and serves first as Midshipman and later as Second Lieutenant. He is Fanny’s favorite brother, and he keeps up an “excellent” correspondence with her from the time she leaves for Mansfield Park. Fanny is “the first object of his love.” William is a young man of “good principles, professional knowledge, energy, courage, and cheerfulness, everything that could deserve or promise well” and “of an open, pleasant countenance, and frank, unstudied, but feeling and respectful manners.”

John and Richard Price: Second and third sons of Lieutenant Price. One is “a clerk in a public office in London, and the other midshipman on board an Indiaman.”

Susan Price: The second daughter of Lieutenant Price, “A quick-looking girl … all eyes and ears”. She and Fanny become friends when Fanny visits her family. “Susan saw that much was wrong at home, and wanted to set it right. … Fanny soon became more disposed to admire the natural light of the mind which could so early distinguish justly….Susan tried to be useful.” Susan returns with Fanny to Mansfield Park, eventually replacing Fanny as companion to Lady Bertram.

Mary Price: The third daughter of Lieutenant Price, “a very pretty little girl” with “something remarkably amiable about her.” She dies a few years after Fanny moves to Mansfield Park. “Fanny in those early days had preferred her to Susan; and when the news of her death had at last reached Mansfield, had for a short time been quite afflicted.”

Sam Price: Son of Lieutenant Price, he is “loud and overbearing” but “clever and intelligent.” At age eleven he is about to “commence his career of seamanship” in the Thrush. He is “influenced by Fanny’s services and gentle persuasions.” Fanny finds him to be “the best of the three younger” boys.

Tom and Charles Price: The two youngest sons of Lieutenant Price. Fanny soon despairs of “making the smallest impression on them; they were quite untameable by any means of address which she had spirits or time to attempt. Every afternoon brought a return of their riotous games all over the house; and she very early learned to sigh at the approach of Saturday’s constant half-holiday.” Charles was born after Fanny moved to Mansfield Park, but Tom Fanny “had often helped to nurse” and had had an “infant preference of herself.”

Betsey Price: The youngest child of Lieutenant Price. She is her mother’s darling, “the first of her girls whom she had ever much regarded”–“a spoiled child, trained up to think the alphabet her greatest enemy”.

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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The Beginning

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on October 17, 2009, 5:09 PM

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The beginning lines of Pride and Prejudice are famous. They are well-known, easily recognized, and often parodied. Less familiar, but still recognizable to most fans of Jane Austen are the first words of Mansfield Park.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyer, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevation; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them. Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norris, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward’s match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible:  Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugal felicity with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions, did it very thoroughly.  She could hardly have made a more untoward choice.  Sir Thomas Bertram had interest, which, from principle as well as pride–from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that were connected with him in situations of respectability, he would have been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram’s sister; but her husband’s profession was such as no interest could reach; and before he had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was the natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences.  Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer, which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such very disrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas as Mrs. Norris could not possibly keep to herself, put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerable period.

(Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, Chapter I)

Here we have three sisters. Their respective marriages and characters are shown. Miss Maria Ward makes a very good match, one which she is “at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to.” We are further told that she is “a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent.”

Her older sister, Miss Ward, makes a match that “when it came to the point, was not contemptible.” As for her character, she has “a spirit of activity.” This spirit leads to a breach between the sisters when she can “not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter” to her youngest sister.

The youngest sister is Miss Frances. She makes a thoroughly disobliging marriage–her husband has no fortune or education. Not only that, to save herself the trouble of dealing with her family’s remonstrances, she doesn’t tell them anything about it until after she marries him.

These three sisters will be further developed as the story continues, but we have clues to their characters right from the beginning. Lady Bertram (née Miss Maria Ward) is placid and indolent, Mrs. Norris (née Miss Ward) is active and angry, and Mrs. Price (née Miss Frances) avoids effort or inconvenience.

Throughout the story, the heroine, Fanny, is treated by each sister accordingly. Mrs. Price gets rid of the trouble of taking care of Fanny. Mrs. Norris actively represses and torments her, while Lady Bertram, though kindly, takes no effort to make her comfortable.

Mrs. Norris (Anna Massey) and Lady Bertram (Angela Pleasence). Images from Rosings.