“Mansfield Park”, the third published work of Jane Austen is considered to be one of her mature works written after 1801. While her narrative remains as witty and satiric as ever, Mansfield Park deals more with the emotions and feelings of its heroine Fanny as she grows from a child to a woman in her uncle’s home that is called Mansfield Park.
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In the starting chapters of the novel, we are introduced to the wealthy family of Sir Thomas Bertram whose lady is a beautiful and indolent woman. Lady Bertram has two younger sisters: Mrs. Norris, an industrious woman living in a parsonage near Mansfield Park and Mrs. Price, who married a poor sailor against her sisters’ wishes and has had many children since with the financial condition of her family continuously deteriorating. It is out of concern for this sister that the wealthy Bertrams offer that the eldest girl, Ms. Fanny Price may be sent to Mansfield Park to reside and grow up there.
And so, young, innocent, gentle and fearful Fanny comes to the house of her wealthy and formidable relations. Mrs. Norris particularly keeps reminding her about her dependent situation and her cousins Maria and Julia also consider her beneath them. Only Edmund, second son of Sir Thomas Bertram, feels for her and slowly becomes her only friend, philosopher and guide in this house and one of the few objects of love in Fanny’s life. The Bertram girls grow up to be beautiful and wealthy women coveted by the neighbourhood and just when they are introduced to the society, Sir Thomas is obliged to leave the country on business with his eldest son Tom.
But Tom returns soon, and with no restrictions in the house, brings a party of friends with him. Also, Henry and Mary Crawford arrive at the parsonage to live with their relatives. It is this pair of siblings that affect the Bertrams most. Henry Crawford, attractive, charming and a determined flirt soon casts his spell over the Bertram sisters, while Edmund is attracted to Mary. The young people decide to play a drama in the house and this gives them an excuse to remain together almost all the time. Fanny witnesses all these impropriety of conduct in people around her, but gentle and timid by nature and always suppressed by her situation, her views and feelings are always kept to herself.
Sir Thomas’s return puts an end to this adventure and Henry Crawford leaves. Waxed and disappointed Maria marries Rushworth, a silly but rich man and leaves her father’s house accompanied by Julia to go to London. Fanny’s Brother William, to whom she is most dearly attached, comes back from sea and visits her. Henry Crawford also returns to the parsonage and now his centre of attention is Fanny. He does everything in his power to win Fanny’s love, including securing William’s promotion, before making his proposals. But Fanny refuses. She can’t forget his conduct towards her cousins and can’t believe him capable of love. Edmund gently and Sir Thomas powerfully tries to persuade her but she remains firm in her refusal at which she is bitterly reprimanded by Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas decides to send Fanny back to her home for few days. Fanny comes home expecting a loving reunion with her family, but is disappointed by the indiscipline, turmoil and noise that her house is constantly in, finally realising that it is Mansfield Park that has become her home now. She slowly gains affections of her younger sister Susan. But all this time, her most secret heartache is Edmund, who is very seriously considering getting married to Mary Crawford, the only obstacle being Mary’s unwillingness to attach herself to a younger son and a clergyman that Edmund is going to be. Charming as Mary is, Fanny is aware of the lack of propriety in her way of thinking and the artfulness of her nature and is not able to believe that Edmund could ever be happy with her. Henry Crawford comes to visit Fanny here also and avows the constancy of his love, almost persuading Fanny to start considering him as a friend.
But Fanny is called away to Mansfield Park again to assist when calamities strike it at once. Maria runs away with Henry Crawford, Julia runs away with Tom’s friend and Tom himself is brought home in such a sick state of health that there are very less chances of his escaping it alive.
What happens next? How do Bertrams get out of all these problems? Did Henry really love Fanny? If so, why did he elope with her cousin Maria, that too when she was married? Who does Fanny actually love? Will Edmund be able to win Mary? How does Sir Thomas cope with the loss of his daughters, bringing shame to the family, and probably the loss of his son’s life? Will Fanny find happiness and a home where she could be herself?
Like other Jane Austen heroines e.g., Elinor and Elizabeth, Fanny also is intelligent and has a good understanding and perspicacity for human nature. But unlike them, she doesn’t have a strong will to carry her forward in her encounter with the world and the people. She is shy, reserved to some extent, delicate in disposition and needs loving and nurturing to open up. She is open and talkative only with her loved ones. But despite all this, she is as lovable as Elizabeth of “Pride and Prejudice”.
“Mansfield Park” deals expertly with the inconstancy of human nature and change in human behaviour with change in circumstances letting us see through the hypocrisy and artfulness of the characters with the typical Jane Austen narration. It is at the end of this novel, that she emphasises her dislike for the mercenary connections by displaying all the evil it can cause and the superiority of true love and the lasting domestic happiness that such love has power to bestow.
An entertaining and emotional love story set in a colourful tapestry of family members and friends…