At the center of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is Fanny Price, the classic “poor cousin” who has been brought to live with the rich Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife as an act of charity. Over time, Fanny comes to demonstrate forcibly those virtues Austen most admired: modesty, firm principles, and a loving heart. As Fanny watches her cousins Maria and Julia cast aside their scruples in dangerous flirtations (and worse), and as she herself resolutely resists the advantages of marriage to the fascinating but morally unsteady Henry Crawford, her seeming austerity grows in appeal and makes clear why she was Austen’s own favorite among her heroines.
Mansfield Park encompasses not only Austen’s great comedic gifts and her genius as a historian of the human animal, but her personal credo as well—her faith in a social order that combats chaos through civil grace, decency, and wit. With an introduction by Peter Conrad.
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About the Author
After her father died in 1805, the family first moved to Southampton then to Chawton Cottage in Hampshire. Despite this relative retirement, Jane Austen was still in touch with a wider world, mainly through her brothers; one had become a very rich country gentleman, another a London banker, and two were naval officers. Though her many novels were published anonymously, she had many early and devoted readers, among them the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott. In 1816, in declining health, Austen wrote Persuasion and revised Northanger Abby. Her last work, Sandition, was left unfinished at her death on July 18, 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Austen’s identity as an author was announced to the world posthumously by her brother Henry, who supervised the publication of Northanger Abby and Persuasion in 1818.
Date of Birth:December 16, 1775
Date of Death:July 18, 1817
Place of Birth:Village of Steventon in Hampshire, England
Place of Death:Winchester, Hampshire, England
Education:Taught at home by her father
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgements Introduction Jane Austen: A Brief Chronology A Note on the Text
Appendix A: The Theatricals at Mansfield Park
- August von Kotzebue, from Lovers’ Vows
- Austen family correspondence, from The Austen Papers
- Erasmus Darwin, from A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools
- Thomas Gisborne, from “On Amusements in General”
Appendix B: Religion
- Jane Austen’s prayers, from The Works of Jane Austen
- Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education
- William Wilberforce, from A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians
- Dr. John Gregory, from “Religion”
Appendix C: Ideals of Femininity
- Henry Austen, from “Biographical Notice” of Jane Austen
- Thomas Gisborne, from “On the Importance of the Female Character”
- Dr. John Gregory, from “Conduct and Behaviour”
- Hannah More, from “The Benefits of Restraint”
Appendix D: “The Improvement of the Estate”
- William Cowper, from The Garden
- Humphry Repton, from Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening
Appendix E: The West Indian Connection
- A Permanent and Effectual Remedy Suggested for the Evils Under Which the British West Indies Now Labour
- Joseph Lowe, from An Inquiry into the State of the British West Indies
- Excerpt from Frank Austen’s notebook 1808, from Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers
- Thomas Clarkson, from The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade
- Hannah More, “The Sorrows of Yamba or the Negro Woman’s Lamentation”
Appendix F: Women’s Education
- Thomas Gisborne, from “On Female Education”
- Thomas Gisborne, from “On Parental Duties”
- Hannah More, from “Comparison of the Mode of Female Education in the Last Age With That of the Present Age”
- Maria Edgeworth and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, from “Prudence and Economy”
- Mary Wollstonecraft, from “Introduction” to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Appendix G: Contemporary Reception of Mansfield Park
- Richard Whateley, from Quarterly Review, January 1821
- Excerpt from “Opinions of Mansfield Park: collected and transcribed by Jane Austen”
- Excerpt from “Opinions of Emma: collected and transcribed by Jane Austen”
Appendix H: Jane Austen’s Letters and Mansfield Park
- Letter from JA to Cassandra Austen. January 1813
- Letter from JA to Francis Austen. July 1813
- Letter from JA to Francis Austen. September 1813
Works Cited and Recommended Reading
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Reading Group Guide
1. Though it was very successful, Jane Austen deemed Pride and Prejudice, her second novel, rather too light.? As Carol Shields mentions in her Introduction, Austen hoped to address more serious issues in her next novel, Mansfield Park. Many readers and critics think Mansfield Park is Austen's most serious and most profound novel. How does it differ from Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice How are her treatments of class, gender, relationships, and most especially, faith, more nuanced and more mature?
2. Describe the social positions of the three Ward sisters Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price. How did they arrive at such different circumstances and how have their circumstances presumably affected their personalities? How do the sisters treat each other and how much of this is the result of their respective status?
3. As soon as Sir Thomas decides to accept responsibility for one of Mrs. Price's children, Fanny is put into an unusual position. Sir Bertram says, although she is to live with them, she is not a Miss Bertram . . . their rank, fortune, rights and expectations will always be different.? Describe the family's feelings for Fanny as the novel develops. How does the treatment of Fanny by Mrs. Norris and the Bertram sisters distinguish her from the rest of the children? How does Fanny feel about the Bertrams and how do her feelings change, especially for Sir Bertram and Edmund? Before her marriage, what changes take place that allow for her acceptance in the family?
4. Fanny Price inspires strong reactions in readers; she is cast by some as a dreary killjoy, and by others as an endearing, admirable heroine. Is this dichotomy Austen's intention? Discuss the ways in which Fanny embodies both sides of this polarized debate. What is your opinion of her in relation to other well-known female protagonists of the day?
5. Mansfield Park was divided into three volumes, published separately. Why do you think Austen chose this structure, and how does it affect your reading of the book? Think about other writing that employs this structure to inform your response.
6. From the moment the idea is suggested, Edmund is against the staging of a play. Why is the play seen as inappropriate by both Edmund and Fanny? Why, once it is decided upon, does Edmund accept a part in the play, even though he would appear a hypocrite? How much of this license was taken because of the absence of Sir Thomas and how much was simply the influence of Tom? What is the significance of their choice of plays, Lover's Vows?
7. Describe the similarities and differences between the courtship of Edmund and Mary and that of Fanny and Henry. What are the stumbling blocks in these two courtships that cause them to fail? To what extent were the trials of these courtships responsible for Edmund's change of heart toward Fanny?
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