Mansfield Park is the third novel by Jane Austen, written at Chawton Cottage between February 1811 and 1813. It was published in May 1814 by Thomas Egerton, who published Jane Austen’s two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When the novel reached a second edition in 1816, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who also published its successor, Emma.
The events of the story are put in motion by the marriages of three sisters. Lady Bertram married extremely well to the wealthy baronet Sir Thomas Bertram, while Mrs. Norris married a clergyman, who was given the living at the local parsonage by Sir Thomas; this allows the Norrises to live comfortably, yet far below the opulence of the Bertrams. The third sister, Mrs. Price, married a naval lieutenant who was shortly afterwards wounded in battle and left with a meager pension, scarcely enough to support their eventual household of nine children. Mrs. Norris, always wishing to appear virtuous, proposes that Lady Bertram take one of the children to live with her at Mansfield Park. They choose the eldest daughter Fanny Price, who is the protagonist of the novel. Thus, at age 10, Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives at Mansfield Park.
Fanny’s new life is not as she might wish. Her energetic Aunt Norris, who strongly advocated the plan of bringing Fanny when it was first proposed, becomes less interested as time goes on and does little to assist with Fanny’s care, except to frequently point out the bother and expense Fanny causes. Aunt Norris refuses to allow a fire to be set in Fanny’s room, though Fanny is in poor health.
At Mansfield Park, Fanny grows up with her four older cousins, Tom (17), Edmund (16), Maria (13), and Julia (12), but is always treated as an unwanted poor relation. Only Edmund shows real kindness. He is also the most good-natured of the siblings: Maria and Julia are vain and spoiled, while Tom is an irresponsible gambler. Over time, Fanny’s gratitude for Edmund’s thoughtfulness secretly grows into romantic love. Lady Bertram is of a lazy and indolent temperament and rarely does anything to assist the raising or monitoring of the children, while all of the children are in awe of Sir Thomas. Mrs. Norris showers attention and affection on her Bertram nieces, particularly Maria, enjoying the prestige and wealth associated with them, but is verbally abusive and mean-spirited toward Fanny, whom she sees as beneath the others. She tries to exclude Fanny from outings and other pleasures.
A few years after Fanny arrives, Aunt Norris is widowed, moves into a cottage of her own, and becomes a constant presence at Mansfield Park. Meanwhile, Tom Bertram, the spendthrift son, incurs a large debt through irresponsible spending and gambling. To pay these debts, Sir Thomas is forced to sell the living of the parsonage, recently freed up by the death of Uncle Norris, to the well-to-do clergyman Dr. Grant, even though Sir Thomas had hoped to keep this lifetime position for his younger son Edmund.
When Fanny is 16, stern patriarch Sir Thomas leaves for a year to deal with problems on his plantation in Antigua. He takes Tom along, hoping the experience will sober him. Meanwhile, Mrs. Norris has taken on the task of finding a husband for Maria and manages to introduce her favourite niece to Mr. Rushworth, a very rich man of ₤12,000 a year, but rather weak-willed and stupid. Maria accepts his marriage proposal, subject to Sir Thomas’s approval on his return.
After a year in Antigua, Sir Thomas sends Tom home while he continues business alone. Although his wife is indolent almost to the point of disengagement, Sir Thomas feels confident about his family situation, relying on the officious Mrs. Norris and steady, responsible Edmund to keep life running smoothly.
When Fanny is 17, the fashionable, wealthy, and worldly Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary Crawford, arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, their half-sister. The Crawfords had previously lived with their uncle, Admiral Crawford, and his wife. When his wife died, however, the Admiral brought into the house a mistress, necessitating, for propriety’s sake, that Mary Crawford live elsewhere. Unable to persuade her brother to allow her to live with him at his own country estate, she finds a place at Mansfield parsonage with her half-sister Mrs. Grant. The Crawfords are quite a bit wealthier than the Grants, so Mary fears her new situation will be a step down; but she ends up satisfied.
The arrival of the lively, attractive Crawfords disrupts the staid world of Mansfield and sparks a series of romantic entanglements. Mary and Edmund begin to form an attachment, despite her original romantic interest in Tom, who is the heir of Mansfield Park. She is disappointed, though, when she learns that Edmund wants to be a clergyman, which she sees as dull and unambitious. She likes him enough, though, that she is willing to continue their relationship, although Edmund worries that her often cynical conversation may betray a deeper lack of proper principles.
Fanny fears that Mary’s charms and attractions have blinded Edmund to her flaws. (Also, of course, Fanny is in love with him herself.) Meanwhile, during a visit to Mr. Rushworth’s ancestral estate in Sotherton, Henry deliberately plays with the affections of both Maria and Julia, driving them apart. Maria believes Henry is falling in love with her and treats Mr. Rushworth dismissively, provoking his jealousy. Although nobody is paying much attention to Fanny, she is highly observant and witnesses Maria and Henry flirting indelicately.
Encouraged by Tom and his friend Mr. Yates, the young people decide to put on an amateur performance of Elizabeth Inchbald‘s play Lovers’ Vows. However, Edmund and Fanny both object, believing Sir Thomas would disapprove and feeling that the subject matter of the play, which includes adultery and illegitimacy, is morally compromising. Eventually Edmund reluctantly agrees to take on the role of Anhalt, the lover of the character played by Mary Crawford. Besides giving Mary and Edmund plenty of scope for talking about love and marriage, the play provides a pretext for Henry and Maria to flirt in public. Fanny, however, continues to disapprove of her cousins’ activities.
When Sir Thomas unexpectedly arrives home in the middle of a rehearsal, the theatricals are abruptly terminated. Henry, from whom Maria had imminently expected a marriage proposal, instead takes his leave, and she feels crushed, realising that he does not love her. Although she neither likes nor respects Mr. Rushworth, she decides to go ahead and marry him, to escape the oppressive atmosphere of Mansfield and to console her loss of Henry, and they honeymoon in Brighton, taking Julia with them. Meanwhile, Fanny’s improved appearance and gentle disposition endear her to Sir Thomas, who begins treating her a bit less distantly. With Maria and Julia gone, Fanny and Mary Crawford are naturally thrown into each other’s company. Out of affection and because she knows it will please Edmund and his father, Mary goes out of her way to befriend Fanny.
Henry returns to Mansfield Park and announces to Mary that he intends to amuse himself by making the normally calm, unemotional Fanny fall in love with him. However, Fanny is steadfastly if secretly in love with Edmund, and her indifference piques Henry to fall in love with Fanny instead. To further his suit, he uses his family connections to help Fanny’s brother William obtain a commission as a naval lieutenant, to her great joy and gratitude. However, when Henry proposes marriage, Fanny rejects him out of hand, partly because she disapproves of his moral character, and also because she loves someone else. Sir Thomas is astonished and indignant at her refusal, since it is an extremely advantageous match for a poor girl like her. He reproaches her for ingratitude, and believing it is mere timidity or willfulness on Fanny’s part, encourages Henry to persevere.
To bring Fanny to her senses, Sir Thomas sends her for a visit to her parents in Portsmouth, hoping that their impecunious circumstances will awaken her to the value of Henry’s offer. She sets off with William, who is briefly on leave, and sees him off in his first command. At Portsmouth, she develops a firm bond with her younger sister Susan, but is taken aback by the contrast between her dissolute surroundings — noise, chaos, unpalatable food, crude conversation, and filth everywhere — and the harmonious environment at Mansfield. Henry visits to persuade her that he has changed his frivolous ways and is worthy of her affection. Although Fanny still refuses him, her attitude begins to soften, particularly as Edmund and Mary seem to be moving toward an engagement, which would mean Edmund would be lost to her forever.
Henry leaves for London, and shortly afterward, Fanny learns that scandal has enveloped him and Maria. The two met at a party and rekindled their flirtation, which led to an affair. An indiscreet servant made the affair public, and the story has ended up in the newspapers. The exposure results in Maria running away with Henry. Mr. Rushworth sues Maria for divorce, and the proud Bertram family is devastated. Even worse, Tom has fallen gravely ill as a result of his dissolute lifestyle, and Julia, fearing her father’s anger for concealing Maria’s affair, has eloped with Tom’s flighty friend Mr. Yates.
In the midst of this crisis, Fanny returns to Mansfield Park with her sister Susan, and she is now joyfully welcomed by all the family. A repentant Sir Thomas realises that Fanny was right to reject Henry’s proposal and now regards her as his daughter. During an emotional meeting with Mary Crawford, Edmund discovers that Mary does not condemn Henry and Maria’s adultery, and only regrets that it was discovered. Her main concern is to cover it up, and she implies that if Fanny had only accepted Henry, there would have been no affair. She also expresses some hope that Tom will not recover from his illness, leaving Edmund to inherit Mansfield Park. Edmund, who had idealised Mary, is devastated to discover at last the sordidness of her true principles. He breaks off the relationship, returns to Mansfield, and goes ahead with plans to be ordained a priest in the Church of England.
While he despairs of ever getting over Mary, Edmund comes to realise how important Fanny is to him. He declares his love for her, and they are married and eventually move to Mansfield parsonage, in the circle of those they love best. Tom recovers from his illness, a steadier and better man for it, and Julia’s husband, Mr. Yates, turns out to be a respectable husband after all. Henry Crawford refuses to marry Maria, who is banished by her family to live “in another country”, where she is joined by her Aunt Norris. Fanny becomes the effective moral centre of Mansfield Park
The second eldest of nine children who is sent to live with her mother’s sisters at Mansfield Park at age 10. Fanny is sensitive, shy, intelligent, virtuous, with a good sense of morals; and her status at Mansfield Park as a dependent poor relation only intensifies these traits. Much of the novel takes place when she is 18 and 19. She has been in love with her cousin Edmund since she was young and when both realise their feelings, they get married. Fanny is pursued by Mr. Henry Crawford.
- Lady Bertram
- Maria Ward, who married the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram. Middle sister of three Wards: Mrs. Norris, Maria, and Fanny’s mother Frances, also called Fanny. She is perpetually vague and distracted. She is lazy and indolent and primarily involved with her lapdog pugs. Born “Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds […].”.
- Mrs Norris
- The officious, skinflint older sister of Lady Bertram, who lives near Mansfield Park. Her husband, Mr. Norris, was the parson at Mansfield Park until his death. She dislikes Fanny and takes every opportunity to put her down and make a distinction between Fanny’s treatment and that of her wealthier cousins. Mrs. Norris also takes every opportunity to save money, such as taking jellies and sewing materials from the main house for her own home. Historian and biographer Jon Spence suggested in Becoming Jane Austen that Mrs Norris was based on Austen’s sister-in-law Mary Lloyd, who had married James Austen, and who was the younger sister of Austen’s close friend Martha Lloyd.
- Sir Thomas Bertram, baronet
- The husband of Fanny’s aunt, Lady Bertram. He owns the Mansfield Park estate and an estate in Antigua. He is initially stern and correct, yet a man with a strong sense of family. He aids his wife’s nephews in finding a place when they are old enough. He later realises his behaviour may have in part led to the ruin of his eldest daughter and the dissolute behavior of his eldest son. He wishes his own children were more like his niece and nephew, Fanny and William Price.
- Tom Bertram
- The older son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; he is seven years older than Fanny. Tom is principally interested in horseracing, carousing in London society, and enjoying the pleasures of the theatre with his friend, Mr. Yates. Tom incurs large debts, forcing Sir Thomas to sell the church position that would have gone to Tom’s younger brother, Edmund. Eventually, Tom becomes gravely ill due to his dissolute lifestyle, helping to teach him the error of his ways.
- Edmund Bertram
- The younger son of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; he is six years older than Fanny. He plans to be a clergyman. He alone among his family has any consideration for Fanny’s feelings. As her protector and friend, he has a great deal of influence over her and helps form her character. But he is also given to self-deception, and thoughtlessly causes Fanny pain, especially when he becomes attracted to Miss Crawford. But Miss Crawford’s opinions on the scandal involving her brother mortify him. He later realises he is in love with Fanny and they are married.
- Maria Bertram
- The very beautiful elder daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; she is three years older than Fanny. She becomes engaged to Mr. Rushworth but she becomes attached to Henry Crawford. She expects Mr. Crawford to propose and when he doesn’t, she marries Mr. Rushworth for his £12,000 a year, despite knowing him to be a boorish young man with little but his money to recommend him. Mr. Crawford crosses her path in London soon after her marriage and they begin an affair, resulting in a great public scandal. Rushworth divorces her and Mr. Crawford refuses to marry her. As a divorced woman she will be financially dependent on her family and they banish her, with her Aunt Norris, to live “in another country.”
- Julia Bertram
- The younger daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram; she is two years older than Fanny. She has strong feelings toward Mr. Crawford, but soon learns that he prefers Maria despite, or because of, her sister’s engagement. Mr. Yates pursues her, which is swiftly ended when Sir Thomas returns to the house. Julia later goes with Mr. and Mrs. Rushworth on their honeymoon and to their house in town. After Maria runs away with Mr Crawford, Julia elopes with Mr. Yates, ostensibly to escape blame and punishment by her father for Maria’s elopement with Mr. Crawford.
- Dr. Grant
- Parson at the Mansfield Park parsonage, after Mr Norris dies. Age 45 when he arrives at Mansfield Park. He is a man who greatly enjoys food and drink.
- Mrs. Grant
- The wife of Mr. Grant, and half-sister of Henry and Mary Crawford. She is very interested to see her brother and sister married. She is 15 years younger than her husband; they have no children.
- Mr. Henry Crawford
- Brother of Mrs. Grant and Miss Crawford. A charming, persuasive and eligible bachelor who plays with the emotions of Maria and Julia. This is observed by Fanny. After Maria’s marriage, he decides to make Fanny fall in love with him but instead falls in love with her. He loses any chance with her after he and Maria elope together.
- Miss Mary Crawford
- The pretty and charming sister of Mr. Crawford and Mrs Grant, who takes a keen interest in Edmund Bertram in spite of his being a second son. Though she is charming, she has certain immoral views and opinions which mean in the end that she loses Edmund. She is often kind to Fanny Price, but is not a reliable friend. She is aware of her brother Henry’s plan to toy with Fanny’s heart, but does nothing to discourage him or warn Fanny. Fanny believes her to be driven primarily by mercenary considerations.
- Mr. Rushworth
- A wealthy but boring man who becomes engaged to Maria Bertram. He divorces her after she runs away with Henry Crawford.
- The Hon. John Yates
- A good friend of Tom Bertram. Tom and Yates carouse in London society and bring their love of the theatre to Mansfield Park. Yates expresses interest in Julia Bertram. He elopes with Julia around the time Mr. Crawford and Maria run away together.
- William Price
- Fanny’s older brother, a naval midshipman, with whom she is very close. Mr. Crawford seeks to ingratiate himself with Fanny by helping William advance in his profession. William is polite, kind and engaging, and Fanny’s only correspondent in her family until she visits them. Helped early in his naval career by his uncle Sir Thomas.
- Mr. Price
- Fanny’s father, an officer in the Marines who lives in Portsmouth. His main interests are the sea and the ships that sail from Portsmouth, and keeping up a social life with his seagoing friends. His large family outruns his income.
- Mrs. Price
- born Frances (Fanny) Ward, Fanny’s mother, sister of Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram. She married a poor lieutenant of marines, Mr Price, for love. She resembles Lady Bertram in her easy character and laziness, but under the pressure of a large family and a low income she has become slatternly and overburdened. Like her husband, she seems to care little for Fanny. Mrs Price’s husband becomes disabled and is released from the service on half pay; she has settled for a life far less comfortable than those of her sisters.
- Susan Price
- Fanny’s younger sister with whom Fanny first becomes close on a visit home. She returns with Fanny to Mansfield Park and takes Fanny’s place helping her aunt when Fanny marries Edmund. Her character is most similar to Fanny’s, of all her siblings.
- Lady Stornoway
- A society woman, who is complicit in Mr Crawford and Maria’s flirtation. They meet at her parties and eventually run away together from her home.
- Mrs. Rushworth
- Mr. Rushworth’s mother and Maria’s mother-in-law. Mr. Rushworth is on his way to fetch her at Easter when Mr. Crawford and Maria increase their flirtation and eventually run away together. Mrs. Rushworth is not fond of her daughter-in-law after the marriage.