Mansfield Park | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Since its publication in 1814, Mansfield Park has stood out as one of Jane Austen's most controversial and polarizing novels. Some readers find it too moralistic and the main character, Fanny Price, upright and dull. Others think that Fanny is a multifaceted character whose growth throughout the novel reflects her courage, and that much of what readers view as moralistic is actually satire.

Whichever opinion a modern reader holds, it's clear that Mansfield Park is a complex story that reflects the complications of the time in which it was written. Touching on the role of the church, morality and scandal, and even slavery, the novel raises questions that Austen's earlier novels avoided.

1. Only Austen's friends and family knew she was the author of her early works.

The identity of the author of Mansfield Park was given only as "the author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice." Sense and Sensibility was written "by a Lady." At that time, it was socially questionable for a woman to identify herself as an author. At first only Austen's closest friends and family knew she was the author of her books, but as she wrote in a letter before the publication of Mansfield Park: "The secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now."

2. Mansfield Park is Austen's most scandalous novel.

In addition to her depiction of Maria Rushworth's adulterous affair in Mansfield Park, Austen also shocks readers with her critical presentation of virtue, as she makes the most virtuous character, Fanny Price, annoying to both characters and readers. Some critics posit that readers become part of the scandal as they become irritated with Fanny Price and make her a scapegoat in their minds, reproducing the disapproving attitudes of the characters.

3. Mansfield Park has sparked debate about Austen's views of slavery.

Sir Thomas in Mansfield Park has a plantation in Antigua, an island in the West Indies. Fanny Price recounts she asked him "about the slave trade" and received in reply "a dead silence." Critic Edward Said claims Austen was an apologist for slavery and her own attitude toward slavery reflected that of a society that colonized and abused slaves heedlessly. Her own father managed a plantation in the Indies. However, other critics claim Austen was sympathetic to abolitionists, based on some of her other writings and the views of her social circle.

4. Two brothers, Charles and Henry Brock, illustrated Austen's novels in the 1890s.

Charles Brock began illustrating Jane Austen's works in 1895; the first of his editions of Pride and Prejudice appeared that year. Other illustrators had taken on the task, but often their work was considered too Victorian and didn't offer the appropriate early 19th-century details. In 1898 a new complete edition of Austen's works was published, illustrated by both Charles and Henry Brock. It contained 60 illustrations, tinted in watercolors.

5. Mansfield Park was the future king George IV's favorite of Austen's novels.

On November 16, 1815, the Prince Regent's librarian, J.S. Clarke, wrote Austen a letter commending Mansfield Park. He spoke, most likely, for the future king as well as for himself. He gushed:

Your late works, Madam, and in particular "Mansfield Park," reflect the highest honour on your genius and your principles. In every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and power of discrimination. The Regent has read and admired all your publications.

6. According to critics, Fanny Price is the least popular heroine in Austen's novels.

In 1859 English critic and philosopher George Henry Lewes wrote an essay about Austen's works in which he noted Fanny Price "is less of a favorite with us than Miss Austen's heroines usually are." Other critics have pointed out the novel is disliked more than any other of Austen's, usually because of the character of Fanny, who has been called "shy, timid, lacking in self-confidence, physically weak, and seemingly—to some, annoyingly—always right." Even Austen's mother called Fanny "insipid."

7. Austen's relatives were clergymen, and Austen explores the role of the clergy in Mansfield Park .

Though she rarely wrote of church matters in particular, in a letter to her sister she stated she intended Mansfield Park to be "a complete change of subject—Ordination." The character Edmund, whose calling is that of a minister, reveals Austen's acknowledgement of the need for good clergymen. In the novel Edmund becomes less rigid and tries to teach Mary the importance of his role in shaping society.

8. There is a vlog adaptation of Mansfield Park.

From Mansfield with Love is a vlog adaptation of Austen's novel, told through multimedia. Produced in 2014–15 by Foot in the Door Theater group, composed of students associated with the University of Winchester, the videos tell a modernized version of Mansfield Park.

9. Other authors have written sequels to Mansfield Park.

Sequels to Austen's novel include Edith Charlotte Brown's Susan Price, or, Resolution (1930); Jane Gillespie's Ladysmead (1982), which focuses on Mrs. Norris; Joan Aiken's Mansfield Revisited (1984), which tells Fanny's sister's story; Victor Gordon's Mrs. Rushworth (1989); and Judith Terry's Miss Abigail's Part, or, Version and Diversion, which tells the story from a maid's point of view.

10. Reviewers greatly preferred the 1999 film adaption to the 2007 one.

Miramax Films released a version of Mansfield Park in 1999 that met with critical acclaim. Called "gorgeous" and "enchanting" by the San Francisco Chronicle and "stylish and stirring" by Newsweek, it fared far better with critics than the version released by British television eight years later. One reviewer called the 2007 adaptation "a sudsy Regency romp" starring actress "Billie Piper's bosom."

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