Mansfield Park is the first of Jane Austen’s three later novels she wrote in full whilst Jane was living at Chawton Cottage. She began Mansfield Park in 1811 whilst still revising Pride and Prejudice and she completed it in the Summer of 1813. Egerton accepted it in the November of that year, and it was published at the end of May 1814.
After the sparkle of Pride and Prejudice, the story did not impress Egerton and once again Jane had to publish it on commission and pay the printing costs upfront. A first run of 1500 copies were printed and an advert appeared in the Morning Chronicle.
The title page showed it was ‘By the Author of “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice”, which was a good endorsement as the first edition sold out quickly.
Mansfield Park was Jane’s Most Profitable Book
The second edition of Mansfield Park came out after the first edition of Emma. As Egerton had declined to publish a second edition, Henry offered it to the publisher John Murray and it was reprinted in 1816. This meant that Mansfield Park had two publishers.
The second edition also sold out quickly, and Mansfield Park became Jane’s most profitable book making her a profit of £350.
The Heroine Fanny Price
The story is about a young Fanny Price who at ten years old is sent away from her family to live with relatives at the Mansfield Park estate in Northampton. Some speculate that the story was inspired by Jane’s brother Edward who was adopted as a teenager and sent away to live at Godmersham Park in Kent. Jane was only eight years old at the time, and his siblings must have missed him greatly.
Fanny misses her family, especially her brother William who is in the Navy who she has not seen for seven years. Jane had two brothers in the Navy who would have been away for months if not years at a time.
Another Loving Brother and Topaz Cross
Jane’s brother Lieutenant Charles Austen bought Jane and Cassandra topaz crosses with his winnings, and although Jane rarely wrote of actual events in her novels, she must have been so proud that she wrote this event into Mansfield Park.
In Mansfield Park it is Fanny’s brother William who is in the Navy and buys Fanny a topaz cross to share his good fortune with his sister. Then Edmund, Fanny’s cousin gives Fanny a gold chain on which to wear the cross.
Fanny’s aunt, Mrs Bertram and her pug spend most of the novel on the sofa, surrounded by her spoilt children and her spiteful sister Mrs Norris, who treats Fanny like a servant. It is when Mr Bertram is called away to his plantations in the West Indies and leaves his family to their own devices that trouble ensues.
Abolition of Slavery in 1807
Jane was aware of current affairs from the newspapers and letters from her brothers. The planned changes in slavery at the time would have affected many of the families that Jane knew who operated in the West Indies.
Parliament were debating the use of slaves by the British in the West Indies and abolished their use by passing the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Jane makes Mr Bertram a member of Parliament which meant that he would have debated and passed this Bill.
Enter Henry and Mary Crawford
The novel is then lightened by two wonderful characters called Henry and Mary Crawford who come to Mansfield from London and shake up the household.
The character of Mary is thought to have been inspired by Jane’s cousin Eliza, who impressed Jane from a young age when she came to stay at Steventon. Eliza was flirtatious, exotic and fun. Jane had nursed Eliza through a long illness until her death in April 1813, and Mansfield Park was completed in the summer of that same year.
Jane describes Mary Crawford as having a lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness.. a sweet pretty girl.
In Mr Bertrams absence, the characters decide to put on a popular play called Lovers Vows (just as Jane and her siblings put on plays at Steventon. The story gathers momentum with intertwined love interests until Sir Thomas returns from his trip and throws the play on the fire.
As the novel progresses there are scandals and drama, jealouses and rebuked proposals until we return to the heroine Fanny who finally gets her happy ending.
Jane’s Fondest Edmund
Edmund was Jane’s fondest characters. She wrote the story when clergymen were much improved and admired, and as Jane was a religious person and devoted to God, she admired Edmund’s devotion to his duties. She had told Cassandra before starting the novel that it was going to be about ordination.
Mansfield Park Reviews
Mansfield Park was not as well received as Pride and Prejudice, and as there were no official reviews Jane made her own list of feedback. After the romantic and headstrong Elizabeth, the heroine, Fanny, was either thought to be very dull or too pleasant.
Jane’s niece Louisa remembers Jane and Cassandra discussing the ending of the novel. Cassandra wanted Mary to marry Edmund and Fanny to marry Henry, where Jane argued that Mary would have tired of Edmund and his church duties and Fanny would have been unhappy with Henry and his fickle nature.
Jane read the novel to her brother Henry on a carriage ride to London and he liked it very much. He later became ordained and married Eliza, so he may have seen something of himself in the story.
Her mother had thought Mansfield Park was not as good as Pride and Prejudice and found the heroine Fanny ‘insipid’. Her sister was ‘fond of Fanny’ and ‘delighted much in Mr Rushworth’s stupidity’. Miss Bramston commented having finished the first volume, she ‘flattered herself she had got through the worst!‘
A family friend, Augusta Branstone, had thought Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were ‘downright nonsense’, but expected to like Mansfield Park more. She preferred it to Jane’s other books, although Jane wrote that she ‘imagined that might be her want of taste – as she does not understand wit!’