How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mansfield Park Revisited

Rereading a favorite book, especially a Jane Austen, gives me such a comfortable feeling. Since it happens so rarely, I savor it like a cup of spice tea (which, fortunately, comes about much more frequently). I really went all out on Mansfield Park, which I read last month because May 2014 was the 200th anniversary of its publication—I copied passages on characters’ personalities, took notes on Regency life and vocabulary, and read Miniatures and Morals’ chapter on it and answered thought-provoking questions. I still have more to do, but it’s an indulgence, not a task.

Well, this is a literature post. I hope you don’t mind, but instead discover something interesting! Since Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s lesser known novels, I thought a synopsis of the plot and principle characters wouldn’t be amiss. I plan, next post, to get into a deeper subject by considering the love “square” between the heroine Fanny Price, her cousin Edmund Bertram, and their friends, the siblings Henry and Mary Crawford. But for now, here is a synopsis of the story … through Jane Austen’s description of these characters. I love her personality profiles. (I really enjoyed copying out these passages!)

Fanny Price: The 18-year-old protagonist. She has “an affectionate heart and a strong desire of doing right.” When she was ten she came from a poor and crowded home to live with wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, at their magnificent country house, Mansfield Park. She was “small of her age … exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, [and] her voice was sweet.” “To her cousins she became occasionally an acceptable companion. Though unworthy, from inferiority of age and strength, to be their constant associate, their pleasures and schemes were sometimes of a nature to make a third very useful, especially when that third was of an obliging, yielding temper….” She grows to be a pretty, intelligent, and high-principled young lady, eager to please and be useful, but still shy and hating to be noticed. She is secretly in love with her cousin Edmund, but he loves her as a sister only. The worldly Henry Crawford becomes attracted to her because of her gentleness and reserve. After seeing her with her long-separated brother William, he “was no longer in doubt of the capabilities of her heart. She had feeling, genuine feeling. It would be something to be loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardours of her young, unsophisticated mind!”

Edmund Bertram: The 24-year-old second son of the Bertram family. As the second son, he must enter a career, because his brother inherits the estate. “[T]he character of Edmund, his strong good sense and uprightness of mind, bid most fairly for utility, honour, and happiness to himself and all his connections. He was to be a clergyman.” He is by far the Bertram the most kind to Fanny. When the Crawfords come into the neighborhood, he falls, rather blindly, in love with the lively, alluring Mary Crawford. To Mary’s surprise, she soon comes to value him, too: “…he was not pleasant by any common rule, he talked no nonsense, he paid no compliments, his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity….” But is a union with Mary really what God intends for him?

Henry Crawford: He and his sister Mary come to stay with their half-sister Mrs. Grant, who is the wife of Dr. Grant, the reverend at the parsonage near Mansfield Park. The Crawfords soon become intimate friends of the Bertrams. Here is what Maria and Julia Bertram, the daughters, think of him: “[Mary’s] brother was not handsome; no, when they 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 … he was no longer allowed to be called so by any body. He was, in fact, the most agreeable young man the sisters had ever known, and they were equally delighted with him.” “The Miss Bertrams were worth pleasing, and were ready to be pleased; and he began with no object but of making them like him. He did not want them to die of love; but with sense and temper which ought to have made him judge and feel better, he allowed himself great latitude on such points.” Only heartache comes of the flirtation for the sisters, and after it blows over Henry Crawford discovers the merits of Fanny … and falls genuinely in love.

Mary Crawford: With manners “lively and pleasant,” “gifted by nature with strength and courage,” and possessing enough amiability to be considered sweet, Mary is popular with the Bertrams. “Miss Crawford’s beauty did her no disservice with the Miss Bertrams. They were too handsome themselves to dislike any woman for being so too, and were almost as much charmed as their brothers, with her lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness.” But she is flippant about serious matters: “Edmund was sorry to hear Miss Crawford, whom he was much disposed to admire, speak so freely of her uncle. It did not suit his sense of propriety, and he was silenced, till induced by further smiles and liveliness, to put the matter by for the present.” She attracts Edmund, a case of opposites attracting, and he believes she is not different in the essentials and can improve.

Have you read Mansfield Park? Are there any books you just like to sink into, take your time with, reread? Maybe learn more about the author or the world where it was written to heighten your appreciation?


  1. In some ways it's hard to believe Mansfield Park was written 200 years ago. Behind the regency dresses and fine houses are very modern people--complicated and dishonest, for the most part. I'm astounded by how many of the subtle uses of words and social mannerisms, designed to push people around, are identical to what I've seen in real life!

    1. You're very right there! All the social interaction feels very modern. I can understand the motives and, like you said, words and mannerisms, of almost every person because I've seen their characters in real life. I think Fanny, Edmund, Mary, and Henry and their respective courtships are eerily similar to certain people today and the choices they face.
      I think Mansfield Park fascinated me even more the second time around! Thanks for commenting!