Portraits by Thomas Sully

Originally Posted by Miss Sneyd on December 5, 2009, 7:30 PM

I was browsing through an online art gallery, and found several portraits by the same artist that reminded me of the characters in Mansfield Park.

Sir Thomas Bertram was a man with “grave looks” and “a most untoward gravity of deportment”, but he is still “a fine-looking man, with most gentlemanlike, dignified, consistent manners” — “just what the head of such a family [as his] should be”.

Lady Bertram “was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa”. As a young woman she was “handsome” and “had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park”. This portrait actually reminds me of both Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price:

“The [Price] family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful-looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.” (Mansfield ParkChapter XLII)

Tom Bertram was “very well-looking” — “objection could no more be made to his person than to his situation in life”. Indeed, both “the Mr. Bertrams were very fine young men, … two such young men were not often seen together even in London”.

Julia Bertram was “a nice, handsome, good-humoured, accomplished girl”, “tall, full formed, and fair”, one of “the finest young women in the country”, though her “beauty and acquirements … held but a second place” to those of her sister, Maria Bertram.

Henry Crawford “though not handsome, had air and countenance”. When the Miss Bertrams first saw him “he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain: he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview, after dining in company with him at the Parsonage, he was no longer allowed to be called so by anybody.” Mr. Rushworth considers him “an undersized, little, mean-looking man”, and Fanny Price does not “think him at all handsome.”

Mary Crawford “was remarkably pretty”. The Bertrams are charmed by her “lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness.” Edmund Bertram considers that it “is her countenance that is so attractive. She has a wonderful play of feature!” In addition to her other charms, she plays the harp “with superior tone and expression”:

“A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart. The season, the scene, the air, were all favourable to tenderness and sentiment. Mrs. Grant and her tambour frame were not without their use: it was all in harmony; and as everything will turn to account when love is once set going, even the sandwich tray, and Dr. Grant doing the honours of it, were worth looking at. Without studying the business, however, or knowing what he was about, Edmund was beginning, at the end of a week of such intercourse, to be a good deal in love”. (Mansfield ParkChapter VII)

Fanny Price has a “general elegance of … appearance”. She is “absolutely pretty. … in that soft skin of hers, so frequently tinged with a blush … there is decided beauty”. Mary Crawford “always thought her pretty—not strikingly pretty—but ‘pretty enough,’ as people say; a sort of beauty that grows on one. Her eyes should be darker, but she has a sweet smile”. Henry Crawford, however, finds an “exhaustless theme” in “Fanny’s beauty of face and figure, Fanny’s graces of manner and goodness of heart”.

The Artist

Thomas Sully lived from 1783 to 1872. In 1792, his family immigrated from England to Virginia. He became a professional painter in 1801. Several famous people were painted by him, including John Quincy Adams, Queen Victoria, and Thomas Jefferson. He is best known for his portrait painting, but he also painted landscapes and historical pieces. In 1806, he moved to Philadelphia were he lived the remainder of his life.

Many of his paintings can be viewed online. The paintings above, I found on Wikimedia Commons.

The actual subjects of the portraits:

Sir Thomas – Caleb P. Bennett of Delaware

Lady Bertram – Mrs. Katharine Matthews

Tom Bertram – Daniel la Motte of Baltimore, MD

Julia Bertram – Margaret Siddons Kintzing

Henry Crawford – U.S. Senator John Norvell of Michigan

Mary Crawford – “Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely”

Fanny Price – Elizabeth Blair Lee

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.