Mansfield Park (1814)

In Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny Price introduced to the reader as a shy and relatively uneducated young girl. But quickly after she befriends her cousin Edmond she quickly becomes a bibliophile. Edmond originally shows affection and concern for her by providing her with the materials to write to her brother William, and this action builds a last relationship between the two cousins that finally results in their marriage at the end of the book. But Fanny’s previous suitor, Henry Crawford, has an interest in books and plays as well and may have finally convinced Fanny to marry him if he had not run away with her cousin.

When Fanny first arrives to Mansfield Park, the family (especially her female cousins) is quick to point out her shortcomings. Julia and Maria “could not but hold her cheap on finding that she had but two sashes and had never learnt French” (15) and even their mother Lady Bertram assumes that she is “stupid at learning” (20). Only Edmond “knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading” (22). Though the three female cousins shared a governess, Fanny’s education would have been lacking without the help of Edmond who “recommended the books… encouraged her tastes and corrected her judgment” (22).

During her stay in Portsmouth, Fanny finds that there are no books in her family’s house and Susan, unlike herself, “had no cousin Edmond to direct her thoughts or fix her principals” (369). As Susan and Fanny begin spending more time together, at first they just talk but after a while Fanny’s desire for books become so “potent and simulative” that she became “a renter, a chuser of books” (370). While Fanny is in Portsmouth she also longs for Edmond, but doesn’t even receive a letter.

Though Fanny claims that she has nothing in common with Henry Crawford, they do share an interest in books. One of Fanny’s duties is reading aloud to Lady Bertram and when Henry and Edmond interrupt her reading one evening, Henry takes over reading King Henry the Eighth. Everyone is so impressed by his reading and Henry humbly insists that he hasn’t picked up the play since he was 15, but “it will be a favorite I believe from this hour” (312). He even impressed Fanny until “the book was closed, and the charm was broken” (312). He further succeeds in impressing her by discussing the merits of Shakespeare and the ability to read aloud. The discussion turns back to theatre when Lady Bertram suggests that Henry should build a theatre at his house in Norfolk. Henry replies “with quickness, ‘No, no, that will never be. Your Ladyship is quite mistaken. No theatre at Everingham! Oh! No.’ – And he looked at Fanny with an expressive smile, which evidently meant, ‘that lady will never allow a theatre at Everingham’” (313). In this scene, and also in Henry’s subsequent trip to Portsmouth to visit Fanny, Austen shows that Henry is making every effort to show Fanny that they do have things in common.

Fanny admits that near the end of the novel that Henry’s behavior was improving and I think that if Henry had not eloped with Maria, Fanny would have eventually married him. Though Fanny had been in love with Edmond all along, without scandal hitting the Bertram family, Fanny would not have been able to marry Edmond. In the very first chapter of the novel, Sir Thomas vocalizes his fear that one of his sons might fall in love with Fanny. He is worried for two reasons though: the first being “of cousins in love” (7), and the second being that if one of his sons did marry Fanny, they would sacrifice a more lucrative marriage match. Between Tom falling ill and Maria and Julie eloping, Sir Thomas probably gave up on Edmond marrying well. Though Fanny and Edmond are happy at the end of the novel, I have a hard time believing that their marriage is the best outcome for everyone in the novel.

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