Austen Weekly: Mansfield Park chapters 1-3

(ed: Sorry, I had to do a lot of Real World™ stuff today so this post is a bit late!)

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Edition: Kindle

As I said last week, I wanted to start a weekly read along mainly to re-read Jane and I cannot remember the last time I read Mansfield Park so it seems as good of time as any to bump her up the reading pile.

I also choose Mansfield Park as the first read as it seems to be the least read / discussed book and there doesn’t seem to be any, and I may be wrong, modern adaptations of this novel either in print or film form. (This is not to say there isn’t any in the huge world of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) as if there can be a Pride and Prejudice and Doctor Who mashup, anything is possible.)

Summary: In chapter one we meet the three sisters: Lady Bertram, Mrs. Price, and Mrs. Norris and learn about their backgrounds. One marries for money (Lady Bertram), one marries for love (Mrs. Price), and one marries for, well, neither (Mrs. Norris). In chapter two, Fanny is introduced and sent to Mansfield Park where she meets the Bertram family, especially Edmund. The Bertrams neither hate or are enthralled with Fanny — they do not mean to be unkind but they treat her with indifference, “Fanny was good-natured enough.” In chapter three we learn more about the Bertrams, Mrs. Norris, and the state of their economies.

  1. Mrs. Norris takes great pains to be shown as benevolent and kind, yet she is indeed a very emotionless person. “Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no real affection  for her sister, it as impossible for her to aim at more than the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity;…”
  2. Mrs. Norris, it’s noted, married financially poorly and saves her income to live a comfortable life only to continue to save and pinch her funds and takes no thought to affording anything though she very well can.
  3. Fanny’s “ignorance” is implied when she does not have the breadth of education the Bertram children have — “How strange! — Did you ever hear anything so stupid?” Here, Austen is clearly showing how the class divides by education: Poor are ignorant for they cannot afford schooling while the rich are highly intelligent because they can afford an education.
  4. Lady Bertram is described as a lazy thing who gives very little thought of her children and more to her dog. How would this have affected her relationship with Fanny and Fanny’s relationships with the Bertram children?
  5. Edmund is to become a clergyman it’s interesting his countenance is a mixture of all three of the sister’s husbands: The money from his father, the duty like his uncle the pastor, and the kindness of Fanny’s father before he took to the drink. Austen created her hero out of the best qualities of all three men — why?
  6. More conversation on Mrs. Norris and her, um, particular disdain for actual kindness which we learn when the Bertrams discuss sending Fanny to live with Mrs. Norris only find said Norris will have none of that — her nerves are too shattered after the death of her husband. Right.

My take: Austen throws a lot in these three chapters which at first glance doesn’t seem to be more than just introductions and laying out the plot but I began to pick up very subtle themes as I went along like the undercurrent with Lady and Lord Bertram’s relationship which is more complicated than outrightly stated. I must confess I have always thought Edmund and Fanny’s relationship was a bit wet and my heckles are getting raised three chapters in how right I am but here’s to hoping Austen can change my mind.