In the first few lines of ‘Mansfield Park’ Austen outlines the class system of the characters and how these classes affect them. As well as this she outlines how marriage affects the characters and their class.
These first lines establish that a woman gets elevated to her husband’s social class when she gets married; the way she writes it shows that she dislikes this system. Austen uses three examples, Miss Maria, who marries the upper class Sir Bertram, Miss Ward who marries the lower-middle class Revd Norris, and Miss Frances who marries to an unnamed working class soldier. It is made clear that Miss Frances married to “disoblige” her parents, and thus it is assumed she married for lust. Miss Maria has “seven thousand pounds” which shows that the family must not be poor; they are most likely business class. The names of the characters show their class; the most common, working class name, Price, is given to Miss Frances. Miss Ward becomes Mrs Norris, and Miss Maria becomes Mrs Bertram. Bertram definitely sounds the most upper-class name. Austen shows that they could have all married rich men, but there are not as much men with “large fortune” as there are “pretty women”. The use of the phrase “pretty women” seems almost derogatory, as if these pretty women are nothing more than ornaments and are not worthwhile. Austen obviously dislikes them.
Sir Thomas Bertram paid Mr Norris to be his own personal Vicar in the household, and would have offered Mr Price a job, but he was unemployable due to a lack of education. This obviously creates a divide, “as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces”. This phrase shows that if you marry below your own class you are almost cut off. Mr Price is presented badly, Austen shows his love for “liquor”, hinting at alcoholism, and the fact that he is “disabled in active service” showing that his career has badly affected his family. Mr Price was most likely fighting in the Napoleonic Wars that were happening at the time, yet Austen doesn’t mention the war specifically as she knows there will always be a war and thus can be in associated to any time period.
Mrs Norris constantly gossips about Mrs Price, always commenting when she had had yet “another child”. This could be due to jealousy as she has no children of her own. Mrs Price swallows her pride and asks the Bertrams to send money, and this “re-established peace and kindness”. Sir Thomas sent helpful advice, giving his time, Lady Bertram sent “money” and “baby-linens”, and Mrs Norris merely “wrote the letters”. This shows how Mrs Norris didn’t really contribute overall, and she eventually asks Sir Thomas to let them adopt one of Mrs Price’s children. This makes Mrs Norris seem kind and compassionate, yet she won’t be contributing very much, and so it’s only to appear kind, the Bertrams will have to do the work and contribute with money.
Sir Thomas didn’t really want to adopt the child, but Mrs Norris uses a variety of arguments to persuade him. The one that really persuades him is the argument that if Fanny (the name of the child) meets the Bertram’s children, one of the sons may fall in love with her and thus marry beneath himself. This persuades Sir Thomas to let Fanny join the family. Later on Sir Thomas discovers that Mrs Norris will not be contributing to the child’s upbringing, he had thought of Fanny as being “a desirable companion to an aunt who had no children” and yet he was “wholly mistaken”. Mrs Norris makes the excuse that her husband is sick, and this may well be the case, but the whole affair shows her manipulative ways. Lady Bertram doesn’t really object as long as Fanny doesn’t tease her “poor pug”. This shows that she lacks empathy for the girl and has become very upper-class, having a negative attitude to the working-class Fanny.
Mrs Price is obviously delighted and sends Fanny at once.
Thanks for reading,