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Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


When Henry Crawford visits Portsmouth in Chapters 41 and 42 of Mansfield Park, in what ways does Fanny Price find him seemingly changed and still the same?

Henry Crawford shows up unannounced and uninvited in Portsmouth, but his considerate behavior puts Fanny Price at some ease. She feels nearly faint when she sees him in the family's parlor, and he, noticing her discomfort, looks kindly away to give her time to recover. He addresses her parents with "the utmost politeness and propriety" and graciously accepts their thanks for his recommendation of William Price to his uncle. Henry brings out the best in Mr. Price, to Fanny's surprise, and amuses Susan Price with stories of Norfolk, where he has recently been tending his estate to the benefit of the area's poorer residents. And he brings welcome talk to the homesick Fanny of Mansfield Park. Fanny silently admits the "possibility of his turning out well at last," but still feels they are "completely unsuited." Yet beneath his attentive behavior and speech, Henry is still working his angle. When he alludes to housing arrangements that may one day bring Mansfield Park, Sotherton, and Thornton Lacey into close society, Fanny is "doubly silenced" by the implications for her and Henry and for Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford. While they walk along the ramparts, Henry manages to take Fanny's arm in his, disguising the intimate gesture as merely friendly by taking Susan's, too. His concerns for Fanny's health oppress her, and his request for her guidance on matters at Everingham embarrasses her. So while she acknowledges him as "astonishingly more gentle, and regardful of others, than formerly," Fanny remains alert to his motivations. If he is really changed, she thinks, then he will surely stop pressuring her to marry him.

In Chapter 44 of Mansfield Park, what do punctuation, organization, and repetition suggest about Edmund Bertram's state of mind in his letter to Fanny Price, and how does she react?

Edmund Bertram writes to Price Fanny in an agitated state of mind. He admits, well into the letter, to "writing nonsense" as he swerves from one mood to another. The letter's sentences, often joined by abrupt dashes, dart from worry to worry as Edmund plagues Fanny with his near-despair over Mary Crawford. "I cannot give her up," he repeats; "I can never cease to try for her." Edmund seeks excuse after excuse for Mary's failings, which he can hardly bring himself to call failings. Her visit to her London friends is to blame, not her own nature. Her weaknesses arise from those who "have been leading her astray for years." Yet he does not hate these bad influences, he insists; rather, he fears "the influence of the fashionable world" and "the habits of wealth." His love could rescue Mary from these threats, if she could agree to live moderately. Edmund describes his state as "miserably irksome," and apologizes to Fanny for imposing his worries on her before recommending Henry Crawford's proposal to her (yet again), despite Henry's having grown up with the same influences and habits as Mary, before reverting to the idea of pouring his heart out to Mary in a letter. After reading this letter, Fanny hopes never to have another because letters bring only "disappointment and sorrow." Her reaction is uncharacteristically harsh, in fact. The truth about Mary has been in front of Edmund's eyes for a long while, but he can't or won't see it. Because this is so, she decides, Edmund should quit delaying and propose: "Fix, commit, condemn yourself." Though Fanny calms down and lets sympathy replace resentment in her heart, the letter represents "the end of it"—that is, of her hopeful, secret love.

In Mansfield Park, how does the Price family react to Tom Bertram's illness, and how do Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Sir Thomas Bertram feel about the Price family?

The narrator critiques the lack of closeness and sympathy among family members in the last two paragraphs of Chapter 44. Fanny Price, cut off from Mansfield Park except for brief letters that take days to reach her, finds sympathy for her worries about Tom Bertram only in Susan Price, who is "always ready to hear" Fanny's thoughts. Mrs. Price, in contrast, has almost nothing to say on the subject beyond a murmured platitude. The narrator does not single out Mrs. Price as hard-hearted or dismissive; the Ward sisters, divided by time, distance, and social class, have learned to think coldly or not at all of each other. "Three or four" of the Prices' children could be "swept away," the narrator says, and Lady Bertram would hardly note the loss as long as William and Fanny were spared. Worse still, Mrs. Norris, still despising her younger sister's choice in marriage, would consider such tragic losses "a very happy thing," because the deaths would relieve Mrs. Price of financial burdens. Even for Mrs. Norris, such a comment is particularly unfeeling. The narrator's diction adds a sting to the chapter's final sentence. The novel supports the claim, however, that such lack of affection among distant family does not have to be the norm. Sir Thomas Bertram provides a contrast to the sisters' detachment. Readers see his support of William Price clearly, and of course he comes to love Fanny as a daughter; but the narrator also drops in lines, throughout the novel, about his assistance of other Price sons, whose interests certainly would not be advanced by their own parents. The Price family is distant, belongs to a different class, and is related to Sir Thomas only by marriage—not even "the ties of blood" compel him. Rather, a sense of duty reinforced by genuine desire to set young people on successful courses seems to motivate him.

In what ways do the reactions of Fanny Price, Maria Bertram, Julia Bertram, and Mary Crawford to Tom Bertram's illness in Chapter 45 of Mansfield Park develop the novel's themes?

The reactions sort these characters into two types: the first includes Fanny Price, whose sincere concern for Tom Bertram and the family is clear. The second includes Maria Bertram, Julia Bertram, and Mary Crawford, who see Tom's illness as an inconvenience, at worst, and an opportunity, at best. Fanny's concern arises when she reads Edmund Bertram's letter reporting symptoms suggesting tuberculosis, a dreaded diagnosis in Jane Austen's time. Lady Bertram is unaware of the threat, but Edmund trusts that Fanny can handle the information. As Easter passes, Fanny longs to be home at Mansfield Park to share the duties of caring for Tom and reassuring Lady Bertram. In contrast, Tom's sisters, who can get to Mansfield Park from London with ease, choose not to go, even after Tom's illness lasts several weeks. Julia offers faintly and insincerely to come home; Maria does not offer. Both, Fanny thinks, are under "the influence of London." Regardless, the situation reveals who in the family feels real affection and who does not. True characters are revealed. But this lack of sisterly affection pales in comparison to Mary's response. When Mary, purportedly a dear friend of Fanny and Edmund, finally writes to ask about Tom, her letter alarms Fanny. When Mary feigns dismay over "poor Mr. Bertram," she is actually considering the advantages of his death. Edmund has the better character and training to inherit and care for Mansfield Park and the people the estate supports. To entertain this idea, Mary assures Fanny, is not shameful but "philanthropic and virtuous." Mary pauses a moment to imagine the sound of "Sir Edmund," no doubt seeing herself as the lady of his estate, and marriage as financially advantageous. Fanny's response is "disgust." Later in the novel, when Edmund learns of Mary's selfish response to Tom's illness, he will feel the same.

In Chapter 46 of Mansfield Park, what do Fanny Price's activities in Portsmouth and her response to Mary Crawford's letter suggest about Fanny's traits as an emerging adult?

At the end of Chapter 45, Fanny Price responds briefly to Mary Crawford with a politic lie, declining her and Henry Crawford's offer to fetch her from Portsmouth to Mansfield Park. When another letter arrives from Mary, Fanny assumes it will urge her again to accept the offer. However, the brief, frantic letter warns Fanny not to credit rumors about Henry that may reach her. Fanny is "aghast" that Henry, who has openly courted her, may have behaved badly—but not for a moment does she suspect Maria Bertram's involvement. This sentiment speaks well of Fanny on two fronts. First, despite not being close to Maria, Fanny assumes good of her cousin. When Mary says the Rushworths have gone to Mansfield Park, Fanny decides nothing truly "unpleasant" can have happened where Maria is concerned. Second, despite having observed Henry's flirtatious behavior at Sotherton and during the theatricals disaster, it never occurs to Fanny that Henry would do something truly damaging. He is vain and inconsistent, but not deplorable. Until her father reads the newspaper account of events, Fanny does not jump to judgmental conclusions. Fanny kindly assumes the best she can of people in her life, while not being blind to their faults. She is generous, willing to see growth and change in people, and not prone to unwarranted bias. Readers see these traits in her dealings with the Price family. Fanny grasps how her mother's life has trapped and limited her; the situation is sad but not a matter of blame. Fanny sees potential for improvement in her siblings and encourages them. Even with Henry, she hopes, when she sees improved behavior, he will become a good and worthy master of his estate. Fanny is becoming a thoughtful, compassionate young woman who will, in all likelihood, make a loving wife and mother one day.

How does the narrator build and then undermine readers' sympathy for Mrs. Norris in Chapter 47 of Mansfield Park?

Mrs. Norris takes the calamity of Maria Crawford's abandonment of her marriage particularly hard. Mrs. Norris arranged this marriage, to her great pride, as she has often reminded Sir Thomas Bertram. Now it has collapsed, to the family's shame. The narrator describes Mrs. Norris sympathetically: she is "overpowered" and "an altered creature, quieted, stupefied," and unable to act. Her sorrow for Maria, her favorite niece, is palpable; readers might even imagine Mrs. Norris expressing regret for her past actions. But in the same paragraph, Mrs. Norris reveals her consistently negative behavior. While Lady Bertram takes comfort in Fanny Price's return, Mrs. Norris resents her niece's presence. The narrator's language is fierce: Mrs. Norris hates the sight of "the person whom, in the blindness of her anger, she could have charged as the demon of the piece." If Fanny had obediently married Henry Crawford, Mrs. Norris charges, Henry and Maria would not have run away together. Readers may choose to doubt whether Fanny's acceptance would have saved Maria's marriage or, instead, have raised the number of ruined women to two. Regardless, Mrs. Norris's stubborn refusal to acknowledge Maria's faults and her willingness to blame Fanny cast her in a villainous light. Mrs. Norris's immediate hatred of Susan Price does not help, either.

What does Edmund Bertram learn about Mary Crawford's character in Chapter 47 of Mansfield Park, and where does he place the blame?

Edmund Bertram knows the devastating and selfish decisions made by Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram. He understands, too, how recent events have imperiled his hope of marrying Mary. But he is unaware, until late in this chapter, of Mary's reaction to Henry and Maria's actions. To his shock, she regards them merely as foolish choices. Edmund expected "horror" and "feminine ... loathings" from Mary, but finds her main objection is to the events having gone public, as she will now be associated with her brother's dishonorable behavior. Edmund, "like a man stunned," must then hear Mary blame Fanny Price for the whole matter. "Simple girl!" she exclaims indignantly. Had Fanny married Henry, Mary assumes, Henry would be "too happy and too busy" to bother with Maria, more than for an occasional flirtation—as if that would be acceptable to Fanny. Edmund considerately pauses in his narrative to ask whether his words are too painful for Fanny to hear; he cannot know she hears them with relief. Fanny has long thought Mary unworthy of Edmund. Yet even after these revelations, Edmund credits Mary's essential self as "richly endowed" with goodness and gifts. Her upbringing in fashionable London, her jaded friends, and her uncle's influence are to blame for ruining her nature. Mary is not cruel, he insists; she merely talks as she has heard others talk. Even when Mary urges Edmund to agree to Maria's marriage to Henry, she hurts him unwittingly. She prefers "a compromise ... the continuance of sin" to facing openly the consequences of Maria's disgrace. When Fanny shares Mary's self-serving comments on Tom Bertram's illness, Edmund is fully disabused; not even his loving heart can "fight long against reason" to excuse Mary's behavior.

In Chapter 48 of Mansfield Park, how does the shift in the narrator's perspective change the nature of the storytelling?

The narrator's voice has ranged from arch and critical to sympathetic and wise over the course of the novel, but not until the final chapter does the narrator drop the third-person distance and speak as I, refusing the "odious subjects" of "guilt and misery," while tying up the novel's loose ends. The narrator's lively and sometimes sardonic voice does not change, but from the first sentence of this chapter to the novel's end, readers hear only that voice; no character speaks. In addition, events happen rapidly and are compressed into a kind of plot summary, rather than unfolding slowly over a chapter or more. Perhaps the narration changes so that readers are not left with unfinished plot strands. Or perhaps the moment at which Edmund Bertram does the one thing he said he could never do and gives up Mary Crawford is the novel's climax, after which the remaining events are foregone conclusions, especially the gradual healing of Edmund's broken heart and his realization Fanny Price is just what he wants in a wife. They are perfectly matched with each other, in fact: "Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures." The narrator leaves the deserving characters intact, within sight of each other at the Parsonage and main house of Mansfield Park. Readers may feel, in this chapter, as if they are observing from a height—no longer in the throes of events, but watching with a narrator's eye as events wind down.

What conclusions about the risks of socially unacceptable behavior are apparent in Mansfield Park?

No young person who violates social norms in the novel—and no mature person, either—escapes consequences. Even small violations lead to consequences that trouble circles of family and friends, such as Maria Bertram's leaving her fiancé behind to walk in the woods at Sotherton with Henry Crawford. James Rushworth's feelings are hurt, Fanny Price's impression of Henry is irrevocably damaged, and the stage is set for more damaging actions later. But the graver the violation, the more lasting the punishment—this is the pattern from the first chapter to the last. So the youngest Ward sister, who made an "untoward choice" in marriage, spends her whole life in squalor, unable to support her children and forced to beg family for help. And the elder Bertram sister, Maria, loses her wealthy husband, her high position in London's fashionable society, and even her familial home, spending the rest of her life with her widowed Aunt Norris, a fitting "mutual punishment" for their mistakes. Even Mary Crawford, whose indiscretions are limited to her words and thoughts, suffers for her vanity and selfishness. She may marry, but she will never see her husband as superior or even equal to Edmund Bertram. The young men suffer, too, but they have better chances of escaping the long-term consequences of their behavior. James Rushworth, whose only offense is his dullness, is offended by his wife's rejection but is cushioned by his wealth and can marry again. Henry, that "sad flirt," as Mary calls him, suffers more in proportion to his dishonorable actions, forfeiting his chance to marry a good woman. Fanny's influence does change Henry, the narrator says, and if he had "persevered, and uprightly," she eventually would have married him. But though Henry experiences "vexation and regret," his wealth, too, keeps him from ruin. He and Maria let vanity lead them, but only he survives the disaster. Maria's is a cautionary example: men can make missteps and even err greatly before recovering many of their losses, but a single error can cost a woman everything.

In Mansfield Park, how are boredom and idleness significant in the calamitous decisions the young people sometimes make, and what critique of wealth might the novel suggest?

With the exception of James Rushworth, who even kind Sir Thomas Bertram admits is an "inferior young man, as ignorant in business as in books," the young people in Mansfield Park are intelligent, somewhat educated, and lively. Edmund Bertram shows himself to be a capable manager at an early age. Tom Bertram, after his long illness gives him time to think, changes his wasteful, irresponsible ways available to him because of idleness, and develops the mindset to manage the estate well. Henry Crawford's spirited conversations reveal his wit, and Mary Crawford has a sparkling intelligence. Fanny Price, Maria Bertram, and Julia Bertram have had a good education as well. But what these engaged young people lack is enough to do with their energies and intelligence. Staff and servants handle the daily chores, and even after Edmund takes orders, is hardly employed at Thornton Lacey. Henry nips in and out of his estate but largely lets his managers run it. With little to do, the young people are easily bored and find trouble instead of proper industry. Henry's rapturous recollection of the days spent preparing the play reveal this issue. Everyone loved that time, he says. "We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of every day. ... I was never happier." Henry is happy, too, when he is helping William Price get his promotion, as Edmund is happy when he talks about his studies and the duties he will have as a clergyman. Fanny admires the slow, patient work Mrs. Grant has invested in the Parsonage's grounds, and Mrs. Grant delights in the details of her housekeeping. These are minds that require stimulation, but when wealth makes work and effort unnecessary, the "animation" and "spirit" the young people poured into the theatricals have no appropriate outlet, and mischievous gossip and plotting put them to poor use instead.

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