Mansfield Monday–Friends or family?

mansfield monday

When little Fanny Price arrives at Mansfield Park everything is so different that she can do little but be terrified and shy. We are told no one meant to be mean.

Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves out of their way to secure her comfort.

Her aunts and uncle tried talking with her. Her cousins attempted to play with her. However, it’s not until a week into her stay that she feels a moment of reprieve from her distress. Edmund, at age sixteen, found Fanny crying and wishing she could write to her brother. He helped get her set up and started on a letter.

During their interaction, Edmund observed:

was convinced of her having an affectionate heart, and a strong desire of doing right; and he could perceive her to be farther entitled to attention by great sensibility of her situation, and great timidity. He had never knowingly given her pain, but he now felt that she required more positive kindness; and with that view endeavoured, in the first place, to lessen her fears of them all, and gave her especially a great deal of good advice as to playing with Maria and Julia, and being as merry as possible.

The effect was immediate. We are next told:

From this day Fanny grew more comfortable. She felt that she had a friend, and the kindness of her cousin Edmund gave her better spirits with everybody else. The place became less strange, and the people less formidable;

From there, Fanny began to adjust more to life at Mansfield and they all grew up. In those years, she did not see her family at Portsmouth again. No one ever seemed to consider her returning or visiting and no one there ever asked for her. She saw only one brother, the one she had wanted to write to, before he left for the sea.

Chapter Two closes telling us of Fanny’s continued friendship with Edmund:

Edmund’s friendship never failed her: his leaving Eton for Oxford made no change in his kind dispositions, and only afforded more frequent opportunities of proving them. Without any display of doing more than the rest, or any fear of doing too much, he was always true to her interests, and considerate of her feelings, trying to make her good qualities understood, and to conquer the diffidence which prevented their being more apparent; giving her advice, consolation, and encouragement.

Kept back as she was by everybody else, his single support could not bring her forward; but his attentions were otherwise of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properly directed, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise. In return for such services she loved him better than anybody in the world except William: her heart was divided between the two.

Fanny Price was given two families in life but in one found a true friend. Some think Fanny is the most down trodden Austen heroine, but compare this with Anne Elliot whose only friend, Lady Russell, was the means of separating her from her love. Emma’s best friend was her governess who marries at the beginning of the novel. She then has to find a new one and the question throughout the book is if the one she discovered was suitable. Catherine Morland’s first friend she makes outside of her family circle ends up being cunning and devious. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood have only each other. Elinor has the added injury of a false friendship with her rival, Lucy Steele. Elizabeth Bennet’s friendship with Charlotte Lucas is materially wounded when she marries Mr. Collins and moves fifty miles away.

Let us also consider how the friendships within families may alter after the sisters marry. Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are separated by marriage and distance. Elinor and Marianne manage to settle near one another. Emma loses the closeness of her friendship with Harriet due to the inequity of their marriages. Anne Elliot will at times have no female company at all as she will live aboard her husband’s ships. Nothing is said about where Eleanor Tilney’s husband lives. We can suppose Catherine and Eleanor do not get to meet often.

It seems, whether friendship comes from within family circles or without retaining one is rare indeed. It might have been harder on Fanny at the time, but given how Maria and Julia turn out, it was all for the best that Fanny found a closer friend in Edmund than she did in her female cousins.

Mansfield Monday– The Miss Wards

mansfield monday

Every time I start to read Mansfield Park, I can’t help but wonder what a prequel to the story would be like. We do not meet Fanny for a few chapters, and the beginning of Chapter One reaches back thirty years to the marriage Miss Maria Ward to Sir Thomas Bertram.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet’s lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

The elder Wards aren’t mentioned, only an uncle who was a lawyer. Was he their guardian? Rather than being proud of his niece’s “accomplishment,” he is amazed that she managed to marry him when she had less than ten thousand pounds. Could this be an early reference to a recurring thing of untrustworthy and overbearing uncles? Mary Crawford has one in the admiral. Fanny has one with Sir Thomas.

Next, we are told of the marriages of Miss Ward, who becomes Mrs. Norris, and Miss Frances Ward who became Mrs. Price. Austen tells us that there are not enough rich men as there are pretty girls in the world. It’s written a bit tongue in cheek but must certainly be the truth.

Mr. Elton in Emma married a woman worth ten thousand pounds. With Miss Ward’s money of seven thousand pounds and the living from Sir Thomas, the Norris family had nearly one thousand pounds a year. We know they never had children and so they had almost Mr. Bennet’s income and yet Mrs. Norris seems to think that’s always insufficient. Additionally, she was already the eldest sister, and it took her another six years to find a husband. Was she too picky? Had she wanted to marry better and relied on Sir Thomas to help her find a better match? Hmm…that seems a bit like Mary Crawford.

Miss Frances married “to disoblige her family.” She seems to have eloped as she was able to hide the intent to marry a poor marine lieutenant until the deed was done. Much like Julia Bertram’s elopement, the elopement itself doesn’t cause much scandal. Compare this with Lydia Bennet’s elopement with Wickham or Maria’s elopement with Henry Crawford. Despite being romantic enough to not care about what her family thought about her marriage, it seems both Miss Frances and Mr. Price had the honest intention actually to marry. I wonder what drove her to such a plan.

Then, the sisters had a falling out. Mrs. Norris wrote a letter telling Mrs. Price all about her faults. Well, it should be no surprise what type of person she is for the rest of the novel. Mrs. Price, in turn, is angry and resentful. The poor Bertrams are stuck in the middle.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that Sir Thomas was willing to try to help Mr. Price.  Apparently, Mrs. Price’s answer to her sister contained things which insulted Sir Thomas’ pride. It does not say that she insulted him directly, but perhaps she did. Now, did Sir Thomas give up in relief or did he try to coax Mrs. Norris into giving way? Did his conscience ever prick him that he should try to do more?

Mrs. Norris is able to tell the Bertrams each time Mrs. Price has a new baby. Pre-Facebook days that is a fascinating ability for “lurking” for a woman who seems to hate her sister. What regrets did Mrs. Norris have about the falling out? She must have felt something since she orchestrated bringing Fanny to Mansfield Park. And yet, the text tells us she had no real affection for her sister. She seems to have gloried merely in the possibility that she would receive credit for the idea. She always seems to arrange things so she comes out on top. I would compare that to Mary Crawford, but it seems more likely to be as foolishly thought out as Maria’s schemes.

What do you make of the Miss Wards? Do you see any parallels between them and the trio of cousins (Maria, Julia, and Fanny) or with Mary Crawford? That might be the topic for the next Mansfield Monday.