Jane Austen, Mansfield Park: Ch. 1

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Mansfield Parkd

Chapter I

About thirty years agod Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand poundsh, had the good luck to captivated Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Parkh, in the county of Northamptonh, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's ladyh, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income. All Huntingdon exclaimed on the greatness of the match, and her uncle, the lawyerh, himself, allowed her to be at least three thousand pounds short of any equitable claim to it. She had two sisters to be benefited by her elevationh; and such of their acquaintance as thought Miss Ward and Miss Frances quite as handsome as Miss Maria, did not scruple to predict their marrying with almost equal advantage. But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve themd. Miss Ward, at the end of half a dozen years, found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr. Norrish, a friend of her brother-in-law, with scarcely any private fortune, and Miss Frances fared yet worse. Miss Ward's match, indeed, when it came to the point, was not contemptible: Sir Thomas being happily able to give his friend an income in the living of Mansfield; and Mr. and Mrs. Norris began their career of conjugal felicityd with very little less than a thousand a year. But Miss Frances married, in the common phrase, to disoblige her family, and by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexionsd, did it very thoroughly. She could hardly have made a more untoward choice. Sir Thomas Bertram had interesth, which, from principle as well as pride—from a general wish of doing right, and a desire of seeing all that were connected with him in situations of respectability, he would have been glad to exert for the advantage of Lady Bertram's sister; but her husband's profession was such as no interest could reach; and before he had time to devise any other method of assisting them, an absolute breach between the sisters had taken place. It was the natural result of the conduct of each party, and such as a very imprudent marriage almost always produces. To save herself from useless remonstrance, Mrs. Price never wrote to her family on the subject till actually married. Lady Bertram, who was a woman of very tranquil feelings, and a temper remarkably easy and indolent, would have contented herself with merely giving up her sister, and thinking no more of the matter; but Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activityd, which could not be satisfied till she had written a long and angry letter to Fanny, to point out the folly of her conduct, and threaten her with all its possible ill consequences. Mrs. Price, in her turn, was injured and angry; and an answer, which comprehended each sister in its bitterness, and bestowed such very disrespectful reflections on the pride of Sir Thomas as Mrs. Norris could not possibly keep to herself, put an end to all intercourse between them for a considerable period.

Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved so distinct, as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of each other's existence during the eleven following years, or, at least, to make it very wonderful to Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever have it in her power to tell them, as she now and then did, in an angry voice, that Fanny had got another child. By the end of eleven years, however, Mrs. Price could no longer afford to cherish pride or resentment, or to lose one connexion that might possibly assist her. A large and still increasing family, an husband disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants, made her eager to regain the friends she had so carelessly sacrificed; and she addressed Lady Bertram in a letter which spoke so much contrition and despondence, such a superfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation. She was preparing for her ninth lying-in; and after bewailing the circumstance, and imploring their countenance as sponsors to the expected child, she could not conceal how important she felt they might be to the future maintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldest was a boy of ten years old, a fine spirited fellow, who longed to be out in the world; but what could she do? Was there any chance of his being hereafter useful to Sir Thomas in the concerns of his West Indian property? No situation would be beneath him; or what did Sir Thomas think of Woolwich? or how could a boy be sent out to the East?

X [d] Mansfield Park

Writing & Reading

For students, teachers, scholars, and the inquisitive general reader: To employ the full capacity of the annotations, please go to bookdoors.com and click on ReSearch Engine. You will discover a variety of illuminating ways to use the annotations to this and to any one of the other BookDoors In Context editions. You will also be able to search the text of all of the other works on the site. …

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X [d] About thirty years ago

Writing & Reading

R.W. Chapman, Austen's first and greatest editor, has a chronology of Mansfield Park that sets the novel in 1808-09. The novel's opening words, "About thirty years ago" situate the Bertram marriage around 1778. Despite the imminent loss of the American colony, George III (Farmer George) is popular with the landed gentry, who saw him as one of theirs. He lives simply, expresses an i…

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X [h] seven thousand pounds

Money

Monetary conversions across two currencies and 200 years are treacherous, yet we can multiply by about 90 to translate £ into $. Thus, Miss Maria Ward would have about $630,000 as dowry. The "only" is ironic: while a great deal of money in itself, it is, her uncle believes, at least £3000 less than the £10,000 a baronet with a large estate can expect. "[G]ood luck," another name here for her beauty and erotic appeal, prevailed.

X [d] captivate

"Captivate" is a strong, suggestive verb linked with "beguiling," "bewitching." Her appeal originates in her beauty, not in her mind.

X [h] Mansfield Park

Places

A "park" indicates a large estate of at least several hundred and possibly thousands of acres.

The park portion is a generous, large area that has been cultivated and manicured. It extends from the gates to the property and surrounds the house; the park is fenced or hedged, though copses and rises will obscure the park's borders.…

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X [h] county of Northampton

Places

The county is fictitious, but Mansfield Park is seventy miles from London.

X [h] rank of a baronet's lady

Class

The "Sir" as opposed to "Lord" indicates a baronet. He's not a member of the aristocracy (otherwise known as the peerage or nobility), which extends from barons up to dukes and archbishops. Baronets and the lowest titled rank, knights, were comparatively numerous. Although not here, Austen at times enjoys satirizing the baronets, such as Sir Walter Elliot of …

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X [h] her uncle, the lawyer

Class

That Lady Bertram's uncle was apparently a country lawyer suggests the middle class into which she was born. Country lawyers, as opposed to London barristers, were not so esteemed as most were to become by mid-century when the professions in general acquired greater respectability. Lawyers, especially country ones, were regarded as high-grade tradesmen who were paid for writing wills, vetting deeds, handling tenant leases, etc. …

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X [h] benefited by her elevation

Class

Her becoming a baronet's wife is in itself a distinction whose aura extends to her sisters, whom now she can benefit in material and other ways. "Connexions" or "interest" (a few lines down) is worth a great deal in a society that is highly conscious of rank and not overly sensitive to individual merit.  

X [d] But there certainly are not so many men of la…

Love & Marriage

A classic Austen sentence, an equation distilled to its essence. That there are more pretty women than rich men is aggravated by there being throughout the later 18th and 19th centuries more girls born and surviving than boys.

She describes this marriage in terms strictly of female beauty, male desire, class, and money. Absent is love or affection.

X [h] found herself obliged to be attached to the R…

Love & Marriage

"Obliged" in the sense of compelled.

She owes her marriage to Sir Thoma's being a "connexion." He is friendly with the Rev. Norris, to whom he can offer a lucrative "living" or benefice as an inducement to marry his wife's sister. Women "came out" or entered the marriage market at about 16 or 17. Six years trailing from ball to ball, spa to spa, bodes ill, and for many women another three to five in quest of a husband will likely be even less fruitful.…

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X [d] conjugal felicity

A choicely ironic phrase applied to the Norris marriage. 

X [d] by fixing on a lieutenant of marines, without…

Love & Marriage

This sister "disoblige[s]" her family, an echo of Mrs. Norris's being "obliged."

There is a profounder echo in that this marriage, like that of Sir Thomas to the beautiful Miss Maria Ward, originates essentially in physical attraction. Nothing else can explain the appeal to a country attorney's young daughter of a man (in uniform, yes, but of low rank) who lacks education, fortune, and connections.…

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X [h] interest

Sir Thomas has no influence here.

Unlike the Navy, which promoted by merit and/or connections, the Army required a large sum of money to purchase a commission. (The marines were soldiers trained to serve on board ships.) To advance in rank, Price would sell his lieutenancy and add a sum of money to become a captain.

X [d] Mrs. Norris had a spirit of activity

An understatement, but it will be clear that Austen views the two sisters as dichotomies, the one immobilized by her indolence, the other ceaselessly meddlesome.