Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park
This novel, originally published in 1814, is the first of Jane Austen’s novels not to be a
revised version of one of her pre-1800 writings. Mansfield Park has sometimes been
considered atypical of Jane Austen, as being solemn and moralistic, especially when
contrasted with the immediately preceding Pride and Prejudice and the immediately
following Emma. Poor Fanny Price is brought up at Mansfield Park with her rich uncle
and aunt, where only her cousin Edmund helps her with the difficulties she suffers from
the rest of the family, and from her own fearfulness and timidity. When the
sophisticated Crawfords (Henry and Mary), visit the Mansfield neighbourhood, the moral
sense of each marriageable member of the Mansfield family is tested in various ways,
but Fanny emerges more or less unscathed. The well-ordered (if somewhat vacuous)
house at Mansfield Park, and its country setting, play an important role in the novel,
and are contrasted with the squalour of Fanny’s own birth family’s home at Portsmouth,
and with the decadence of London.

Readers have a wide variety of reactions to Mansfield Park-most of which already
appear in the Opinions of Mansfield Park collected by Jane Austen herself soon after the
novel’s publication. Some dislike the character of Fanny as “priggish” (however, it is
Edmund who sets the moral tone here), or have no sympathy for her forced inaction
(doubtless, those are people who have never lacked confidence, or been without a
date on Friday night!). Mansfield Park has also been used to draw connections between
the “genteel” rural English society that Jane Austen describes and the outside world,
since Fanny’s uncle is a slave-owner (with an estate in Antigua in the Caribbean;
slavery was not abolished in the British empire until 1833). Like a number of other
topics, Jane Austen only chose to allude glancingly to the slave trade and slavery in
her novels, though she was aware of contemporary debates on the subject. Mansfield
Park was one of only two of Jane Austen’s novels to be revised by her after its first
publication, when a second edition came out in 1816 (this second edition was a failure
in terms of sales).

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