‘Mansfield Park’ is class.

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.


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In, Out, In, Out, Shake it all about.

We can see the attitudes to women through the conversation about whether Fanny Price is “in” or “out”. In the Regency period, the time when Austen wrote ‘Mansfield Park’, women were deemed ‘in’ or ‘out’, ‘in’ meaning that you stay at home and are not ready to accept a marriage proposal, whereas ‘out’ meant that you were going to balls and dinners to try and attract the attention of a man to propose to you.

The first idea of girls being ‘out’ is presented in the engagement of Maria Bertram and Mr Rushworth, who “soon fancied himself in love” after attending a “proper number of balls”. We can see that  this is a family affair, with the attitudes of the families and even the public noted: “much to the satisfaction of their respective families, and of the general lookers-on of the neighbourhood, who had, for many weeks past, felt the expediency of Mr Rushworth’s marrying Miss Bertram”. We see here that everyone has an opinion, and wishes for marriage to occur.

We can also see that Maria has not engaged for love, but to climb the social ladder (as I talked about in my last blog post on ‘Mansfield Park’). This is shown through Edmund’s opinion, he saw “a fault in the business” and after talking to Mr Rushworth would say to himself, “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.” However the rest of the family seems delighted, and Sir Thomas believes it to be an “alliance so unquestionably advantageous”. This shows how women were expected by their family to marry well, because their choice reflected on the whole family, and in those days reputation was everything.

Later on a conversation between Mary Crawford and Edmund occurs in which they question whether Fanny is in or out. Mary seems to have the boundaries of in and out very clear, “Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistake as to a girl’s being out or not” and yet she is confused as Fanny does not fit into these boundaries, “I am puzzled. – She dined at the parsonage, with the rest of you, which seemed like being out; and yet she says so little, that I can hardly suppose she is“. Edmund seems to assume that being out is to do with age, “My cousin is grown up. She has the age and sense of a woman.”

Mary then talks about being out or not, and what this should be. For example a girl who isn’t out would wear a “close bonnet” and “never says a word” – which seems like they are just objects standing there and waiting to be out. Mary says that “Girls should be quiet and modest.” which is the attitude of the upper classes to young women at the time. Mary also seems to despise girls who turn to “confidence”, which in our day and age seems ridiculous. She suggests that “One does not like to see a girl of eighteen or nineteen so immediately up to everything” and almost seems to despise girls of this sort. As Mary is a woman we see that this is a general view, it isn’t just old men who are sexist towards young women.

Henry shows the difference between women who are in and out. When a girl, Mr Anderson’s sister, was in, Henry could “hardly get a word or a look from the young lady”. However many months later, she was “then out” and “talked and laughed” a lot. The language Henry uses makes it sound as if this was disgraceful “I felt that I must be the jest of the room.” Edmund remarks that these women who are out “are always acting upon motives of vanity – and there is no more real modesty” almost suggesting that they are immoral. Miss Crawford’s language however suggests this even more, “It is much worse to have girls not out, give themselves the same airs and take the same liberties as if they were,” and goes on to describe it as “quite disgusting” which makes her sound like she is repulsed by the fact, as if these women are somehow whores because they are confident and feel comfortable talking to men. 

Henry decribes another situation with another girl, who appeared to be out as she was “perfectly easy in her manners, and as ready to talk as to listen”. This suggests that only girls who are willing to be married should be allowed to talk. As the girl was given all the attention by Henry and was “not out” the other sister was deeply offended, as was the rest of the family. Mary blames it on the fact that the “governess” not being there, as if all girls who are not out have to be accompanied by a governess to ensure they don’t get attacked by some marriage hungry male. Mary then asks whether Miss Prices goes to “balls” or dines “out everywhere”, and as the answer is a categorical no, then it “is clear, Miss Price is not out.”

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Marriage is Class.

In Chapter 4 of ‘Mansfield Park’ we see the introduction of the Crawfords. These characters highlight the relationship between social class and marriage, as everything about the characters seems to be about these two things. In the time of ‘Mansfield Park’ marriage was very important as the only way to change social classes was through marriage.

The Crawfords are introduced through the fact that their mother had a “second marriage”. Austen talks about their fortune, “The son had a good estate in Norfolk, the daughter twenty thousand pounds” and their beauty, “Mary Crawford was remarkably pretty”. Austen is showing that the upper classes are obsessed with marriage and their suitability for marriage. They are delighted with the idea of living so close to the Bertrams as they could be suitable companions, “she had fixed on Tom Bertram; the eldest son of a Baronet was not too good for a girl of twenty thousand pounds,” they’re only concerned with marriage, especially Mary,  “matrimony was her object”.

Austen seems to dislike the upper classes and their material extravagances: “filled her favourite sitting room with pretty furniture”. The phrase “choice collection of plants and poultry” shows her negative attitudes towards these classes, plants and poultry are unnecessary things to have a “choice collection” of, and this is why Austen uses them.

Mrs Grant suggests that Henry marries the “youngest Miss Bertram, a nice, handsome, good-humoured, accomplished girl.” This suggestion itself shows how conversations were based around marriage and suitability, this makes it seem like the upper classes think of nothing else. Henry is established by Mary as the “most horrible flirt”, introducing his attitude to love. She also shows how the whole families (“very clever women” apparently) of some girls have tried to “reason, coax or trick him” into marrying the girl. This shows how desperate women are to ascend the social classes.

The phrase that a wife is “Heaven’s last best gift” shows how God bestowed wives almost as free servants to men. God’s last ‘best gift’ was Eve, who was given as a companion to Adam. This alludes to religious ideas about gender roles and females being inferior to males. Mrs Grant says that she pays “very little regard” “to what any young person says on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination for it,” she assumes “that they have not yet seen the right person.” She suggests that all young people want to get married and they are lying if they say that they don’t. It shows the attitudes towards marriage of the upper classes. The chapter ends with Miss Crawford saying that marriage is necessary if the woman can do it “to advantage”. This almost suggests that marriage isn’t due to love, it’s only to progress in social class.

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We continue with the story

As you may have noted I am plodding through analysis of the chapters of ‘Mansfield Park’ at a seemingly slow pace. I am reading it much quicker than I’m blogging it, but I am only writing blog posts on chapters we’ve looked at in class so far. 

Chapter 2

In this chapter Fanny is brought into the household of Mansfield Park and we see her being welcomed (or not, as the case may be) into the family. We can see immediately that Mrs Norris is classist – prejudiced against lower classes, a snob. She doesn’t empathise with Fanny, being annoyed that she doesn’t seem gracious of her new home, not even noticing that she’s homesick. 

We can see that Austen dislikes the ‘Miss Bertrams’ and their silly pass-times: “making artificial flowers or wasting gold paper”. She presents the two sisters as a complete contrast to Fanny, confident young women who are not the most kind. Austen shows that the sisters notice that Fanny isn’t like them, and distinguishes her from them, “my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together”. They assume that she is ignorant and stupid, and the adults seem to agree, suggesting that some people “were stupid” and expressing that it was just a shame that Fanny had to be like that too. This shows the attitudes to the working class.

Edmund is the only character who accepts Fanny and treats her as equal. He helps her write to William and becomes someone she can confide in. Immediately there is a distinction between Tom and Edmund, Tom is described as “careless and extravagant”, yet Edmund is described as “good” and to be a “clergyman”. The fact that he is going to be a clergyman shows his goodness, as in those days your goodness was shown through your Christianity. The chapter ends telling us that Fanny loves Edmund very much, and that “her heart was divided” between him and William (her favourite brother).

Chapter 3

The first passage shows the financial affairs, and that Tom has wasted money. Tom’s character is shown through two phrases, that he has “some shame” showing his regret, yet this is undermined by the phrase “cheerful selfishness”.

Mrs Norris is expected to now take care of Fanny, to “claim her share in their niece”. Fanny doesn’t want to go, and goes to Edmund to talk to him about the matter, saying “I love this house”. This shows how her attitudes to Mansfield Park had changed now she had grown up. Edmund mentions that she is important, and she is surprised by this fact. Fanny had obviously not been called important before, her mum had given her away and the residents at Mansfield generally considered her inferior. Edmund suggests that she “will necessarily brought forward as you ought to be”, that she’d be raised up properly. At Mansfield she would have people to hide behind, yet at the Parsonage with Mrs Norris she’d have to speak for herself , her life would change with social circles etc.

Mrs Norris obviously had no intention to do so (much to Fanny’s relief), “Mrs Norris had not the smallest intention of taking her”. She only suggested the Bertrams adopt her to look Christian and benevolent. She uses many excuses to show how she couldn’t possible take Fanny, that she is a “poor desolate widow” and must have a “spare room”. She turns it back onto Sir Thomas, suggesting that “Nobody that wishes me well, I am sure, would propose it.” and persuades the Bertrams to keep her.

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Fanny learns about herself, not Asia Minor.

When Fanny Price goes to Mansfield Park she is obviously very homesick. This fact isn’t helped by her relatives not welcoming her in the most gracious way. The only cousin who welcomes her is Edmund, who acts affectionately towards her: ” ‘My dear little cousin,’ said he with all the gentleness of an excellent nature , ‘what can be the matter?’ “. Edmund is her hero at the beginning of the novel and becomes a brother almost equal to William, and Fanny’s heart is divided. The other cousins act differently towards Fanny. Maria and Julia act as if she is ignorant, ” ‘Dear Mamma, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together’ “. This seems ridiculous to us, yet because the Miss Bertrams have been brought up in such an educated manner and upper class household they know no better, they genuinely think that she is stupid. Mrs Norris, however, has no excuse as she wasn’t brought up in such a fashion. She acts as if she is constantly disappointed and annoyed with Fanny. When Fanny first arrives at Mansfield Park Mrs Norris seems annoyed that Fanny isn’t gracious, not being empathetic to the fact that she’s obviously homesick: “the idea of it being a wicked thing for her not to be happy”. Tom Bertram is the only character who doesn’t seem to have much of an attitude towards Fanny, having very little interest as a 17 year old would towards a 10 year old. The only interaction he has with her when she’s young is to tease her slightly, “laughed at her”. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram “received her very kindly” and yet they still intimidated Fanny, “She was disheartened by Lady Bertram’s silence,” and  “awed by Sir Thomas’ grave looks”.

Due to this treatment, Fanny at her time in Mansfield Park learns only that she is inferior to the Bertrams and Mrs Norris, as she is constantly treated in that way. She must think that she is only there due to charity and so that the Bertrams (and more likely Mrs Norris) look Christian and benevolent. Fanny would also think that she is “ignorant” and “prodigiously stupid” (mainly due to Maria and Julia), despite her obvious love for reading, “books which charmed her leisure hours”. 

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The first Chapter.

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.

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Lost in Austen

Jane Austen was one of the first feminist fiction writers. She is by definition a comedy writer, utilising exaggeration, humour, irony and caricatures (such as Mrs Norris).

She ends novels with a wedding, which is a characteristic of her writing. In the time that her books were written a happy ending was synonymous with a wedding, or at least an engagement. All of the characters want to be married and dread the idea of not marrying and living in poverty. Austen herself however was not married, and was poor as a consequence.

In all of her books the heroine is the most well rounded and Christian character in the book. In those days their Christianity was a measure of their goodness, as they aspired to be good and follow holy laws to get to heaven. The protagonist in her books also always make a huge mistake, a characteristic of a tragedy. They also all have an obstacle that threatens the marriage. For example in ‘Mansfield Park’ the obstacle is Fanny Price’s social class. The male always helps the heroine over the obstacle and by doing so proves to the heroine that he is the right man.

 Thanks for reading,