Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is famous for her skill in social commentary. She restricted herself to the upper middle class with which she was familiar. She presents the position of women in the society. Her novel condemns attitudes like the pride of position and rank, urge to marry someone who will bring the rich dowry, girl’s interest in rich boys to maintain their social status etc. She is excellent in psychological reading and her use of irony.
In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price a soft and humble woman has to leave her parents house at Portsmouth due to poverty and was bound to stay with her rich uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas Bertram and Lady Bertram. Mr. and Mrs. Bertram had four children- Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. She felt very lonely in Mansfield Park where no one cared for her and her aunt Mrs. Norris always taunted her. Only Edmund had a soft corner for her and Fanny also loved him dearly.
The conflict arises when Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford arrives at the parsonage. Edmund falls in love with Maria and Henry flirts with Bertram sisters but proposes marriage to Fanny. Fanny was well aware of their characters from the beginning though no one believed her. After Fanny rejected Henry, he eloped with Maria(who was married to Mr. Rushworth), and Edmund realizes Mary’s true character and they broke up. Finally, Edmund and Fanny get united and the novel ends happily.
From the very beginning, Fanny being poor was always laughed at by her sisters Maria and Julia. She did not have accomplishments like her sisters. But when it comes to decision-making, she proves that only money and education is not enough. She proves that “Beauty is not in the face, but in the heart.” A modern reader will feel greatly pleased by the way Austen has presented Fanny as strong women. While the other characters change, Fanny remains consistent throughout the novel. All the characters in the novel show that Austen is great in character reading.
Jane Austen satirizes the society by a presentation of theatricals in Mansfield Park. Jane Austen was criticized for her choice of the play Lover’s Vows by Elizabeth Ichbald. Lover’s Vows was much in controversy for its politics and moral ambiguity.
Another major issue that is brought out in the novel is the slave’s trade that was prevalent in England. The issue of slavery has a single reference in the novel when Fanny said, “…Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?” And no one answered the question. Though different critic has a different opinion about whether truly Austen tried to relate the slave trade with Mansfield Park, it is left completely with the reader to think.
Though Mansfield Park is a lengthy text and you might feel bored, but I personally feel that it’s worth reading. A reader can relate certain issues to our present society which will lead to ultimate pleasure. Furthermore, it’s a feminist text and it will receive much praise from feminist readers.
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it than any other person can be.”
So have you read Mansfield Park? Please share your views in the comment section below.