We can see that class is a principle theme in ‘Mansfield Park’ from the very beginning, where the three Ward sisters marry different men from different classes. One marries above her station, to Sir Thomas Bertram, one marries at her appropriate rank , to the middle class Revd. Norris and the other below her station, to a sailor who becomes an unemployed drunkard, Mr Price.
We see that high social status doesn’t necessarily mean high morals. Tom goes to London where the hustle and bustle of city life corrupts him into gambling and drinking. The Miss Bertrams are spoiled, selfish and the married Maria even runs off with Henry Crawford, showing the immorality of the upper class. The reason that the upper classes are usually the most immoral is due to the want of rebellion and the fact that there are little to no consequences. If a working class lady got pregnant without marriage she would have nothing to live on, as nobody would wish to marry her, whereas in an upper class situation the lady would be able to live off of her inheritance alone. Even Edmund, who’s a minister, isn’t completely moral in the book as he gets distracted by desire for Mary Crawford.
The immorality of the upper class is shown through the theatricals and the play of ‘Lovers Vows’. This is obviously an unsuitable choice of play due to the sexual content and the reputation the household has to keep up, especially with Maria’s engagement. Sir Thomas Bertram seems more moral than the rest of the household, as he halts the play immediately, as he obviously saw the trouble it would cause and how improper it would be. However we, as readers, need to remember that however moral Sir Thomas may be in his actions in the novel he makes his profits from plantations in Antigua, and thus from the slave trade, an obviously immoral way of making money. The Crawfords are the upcoming business middle class, who made their money in the city. They also bring bad morals as they encourage the play and its content and are also immoral sexually, Henry is quite clearly a “terrible flirt” and runs off with Maria, and Mary distracts Edmund from his life of ministry.
The most moral of the Bertram family is Fanny Price, who comes from the working class. She is patient, helpful and definitely knows right from wrong. She becomes socially mobile as she marries Edmund at the end of the novel and becomes upper class. Austen quite often rewards the deserving in her novels, and Fanny could one day replace Lady Bertram as the mistress of Mansfield Park.
Thanks for reading,