Mansfield Park is Jane Austen’s third published novel and many readers and scholars think that it is her highest accomplishment.

The book is the first novel that she wrote after arriving at the Hampshire village of Chawton. The house she wrote the book in is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum.

 

The heroine of Mansfield Park is Fanny Price. As with her other novels, Jane Austen presents us with a recreation of aspects of the world she knew directly and from her own reading. Perhaps moreso than in her other books there is a particularly clear sense of social and cultural frames of reference that form a backdrop to the character relationships. As in Austen’s other novels the connections and disconnections between heart and mind are important to the drama of the story. Here’s Edmund in chapter nine making an observation to Fanny about the relationship between head and heart:

 

"The mind which does not struggle against itself under one

circumstance, would find objects to distract it in the other, I

believe; and the influence of the place and of example may often rouse

better feelings than are begun with. The greater length of the service,

however, I admit to be sometimes too hard a stretch upon the mind. One

wishes it were not so; but I have not yet left Oxford long enough to

forget what chapel prayers are."

 

 

As in Jane Austen’s other novels, Mansfield Park is notable for its very realistic presentation of spoken conversations between characters. In this way, the novel reminds us of how much emphasis Austen puts on how we speak to each other. Contrastingly, the novel also features a strong use of symbolism in order to comment on how characters respond to situations. Jane Austen’s descriptions of place are very clear and powerful examples of how the description of place can be specific whilst also functioning to help readers understand how a character sees the world and the relationships around them. A key example of this is to be found in chapter ten of the novel when Fanny visits Sotherton. Fanny is interested in nature and the grounds of Sotherton are written about in such a way as to create a metaphorical understanding of the events that develop in the novel. Here is an excerpt from that chapter:

 

“Fanny was again left to her solitude, and with no increase of pleasant

feelings, for she was sorry for almost all that she had seen and heard,

astonished at Miss Bertram, and angry with Mr. Crawford. By taking

a circuitous route, and, as it appeared to her, very unreasonable

direction to the knoll, they were soon beyond her eye; and for some

minutes longer she remained without sight or sound of any companion.

She seemed to have the little wood all to herself. She could almost

have thought that Edmund and Miss Crawford had left it, but that it was

impossible for Edmund to forget her so entirely. “

 

Jane Austen’s use of place to express character relationships and perceptions reminds us of a similar approach used in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth visits Pemberley, the home of Darcy.

 

In this novel, then, Austen’s writing carries particular power in communicating the importance of place in terms of how we think of people and events. In this way our imaginations often transform the ‘facts’ of a situation.

 

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