Austen for Beginners

Mansfield Park - the plot

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Mansfield Park – the text

Setting the scene...
  • Our heroine, Fanny Price, is sent at the age of ten to live with her rich aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram at Mansfield Park. Her parents have numerous children and are not well-off, so are pleased when the offer is made. Near Mansfield Park lives Fanny's other aunt, Mrs Norris, who is the wife of the local parson.
  • Fanny's Bertram cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia are all older and more confident and noisy than Fanny, who tends to be rather shy. Edmund is kind to her; the others merely tolerate her. Fanny misses her sisters and brothers very much, especially her eldest brother, William.
Change in the air
  • When Fanny is fifteen, Mr Norris dies and a new parson is appointed. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram rather expect that Mrs Norris will now take on the care of their niece: after all, Fanny would be a good companion for a new widow, but Mrs Norris doesn't fancy the idea at all. So Fanny remains at Mansfield Park while Sir Thomas goes away to look after his estates in the West Indies, taking his eldest son Tom with him. 
  • Lady Bertram doesn't really mind Fanny still being there - she doesn't make much noise, is helpful everyone, and to someone as lazy as Lady Bertram she is very useful. Fanny is much relieved - she doesn't like Mrs Norris much and it's mutual.
  • The new parson, Dr Grant arrives with his wife. Mrs Norris doesn't think much of them; she thinks Mrs Grant has ideas above her station.
  • The Bertram girls take a full part in local society - suppers, balls, assemblies and so on. They are escorted by their aunt, Mrs Norris - Lady Bertram is too lazy to make such a social effort, but she is perfectly happy at home with Fanny.
  • Edmund takes on all the business of the Mansfield Park estate while his father is away and effectively runs the household. Sir Thomas's business takes longer than he had thought, and a year later he is still away with no idea when he will be back. Tom, however, returns home.
Love in the air?
  • Maria Bertram, the elder of the two girls, accepts a proposal of marriage from Mr Rushworth, who is a rich young man with a very good estate not far from Mansfield Park. It is a good match for her and everyone is delighted. Sir Thomas writes to consent to her marriage, but stipulates that it must not take place until he gets home. Maria is not in love, but she thinks Mr Rushworth's money will make her perfectly happy, thank you.
  • Mrs Grant's brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, arrive to stay with her for a while. Mrs Grant starts matchmaking immediately; she thinks Mary will do very well for Tom Bertram, and that Henry should marry Julia Bertram.
  • Tom goes away to a horse-racing meeting, and in his absence it seems that Edmund is the one most likely to fall in love with Mary Crawford.
Fanny is neglected
  • The Crawfords and Bertrams are introduced; everyone gets on well, although the Crawfords cannot understand Fanny's social position. They are encouraged to think she is merely a poor relation by Mrs Norris, who sets up an outing to Mr Rushworth's estate, Sotherton, that excludes Fanny.
  • Fanny suffers more humiliation as Miss Crawford borrows her horse in order to go on riding excursions with the others, thus excluding Fanny. Finally Edmund realises that she is being neglected and puts a stop to it. He arranges for her to be included on the outing to Sotherton in spite of Mrs Norris's objections. No one else had even noticed that she wanted to go.
  • The Sotherton excursion takes place. Maria Bertram spends it trying to escape from Mr Rushworth without his mother noticing; Julia Bertram spends it trying to bewitch Henry Crawford; Mary Crawford spends it trying to bewitch Edmund Bertram. Fanny and Mr Rushworth are rather neglected.
  • It is announced that Sir Thomas is on his way home. His daughters are not pleased: Maria because her wedding to Mr Rushworth is due to take place soon after he gets home, and Julia because he will make her behave herself.
The wanderers return home to some dramatic events
  • Tom Bertram returns from the races with a new friend, John Yates. They suggest getting up a play, but Edmund disapproves of the idea. Tom overrules him and plans are laid.
  • Miss Crawford has decided against trying to marry Tom Bertram, and is fixed on trying to get Edmund as a husband instead. Henry Crawford is still flirting with both the Bertram sisters, in spite of Maria's engagement, and the sisters are jealous of one another. Fanny has gone off the Crawfords in a big way since the visit to Sotherton, and when the play is suggested, she joins with Edmund in disapproval.
  • The play selected is called Lovers Vows. Maria Bertram gets the female starring role, much to Julia's fury, especially when Henry Crawford openly says that Maria would be better in the part. Julia goes into a sulk and refuses to speak to anyone. Tom wants Fanny take a small part in the play, since he cannot get anyone else, but she refuses. He talks of getting another acquaintance to play one of the other male parts, since Edmund refuses to do it. To avoid this and to keep the play acting strictly within the families of Bertram and Crawford, Edmund reluctantly agrees to take the part himself, which horrifies Fanny. Meanwhile Mrs Grant agrees to take the part that Fanny was offered.
  • Rehearsals and plans proceed; Fanny is excluded at first since she is taking no part, but is soon found to be useful as a prompter and test audience. Julia is still sulking. Edmund is worried that Tom is getting carried away, spending too much money and inviting too many people. Maria and Henry Crawford are getting on much too well, and Mr Rushworth is jealous. Mrs Norris is busy helping with the practical arrangements and scolding Fanny for not doing enough.
  • When everything is at an advanced stage of rehearsal, Sir Thomas unexpectedly arrives home. He at once puts a stop to the whole thing, considering it very improper; he agrees entirely with Fanny's opinion on the subject and Edmund explains to him as best he can how it all came about. The stage is taken down and all the copies of the play that Sir Thomas can find are destroyed.
Exit Mr Rushworth, the Misses Bertram and Mr Crawford; enter William Price and Mr Crawford again
  • Following the cancellation of the play, Henry Crawford goes away to visit his uncle in Bath. Maria had been hoping he would declare his love for her and enable her to get rid of Mr Rushworth, but no such luck. Pride takes over, and she marries Mr Rushworth without any further delay. The happy couple leave on honeymoon to Brighton, taking Julia with them.
  • Mary Crawford is more friendly these days to Fanny than ever before; there is no one else left to be friends with. Mrs Grant invites Fanny to dinner, which she has never done before; Mrs Norris thinks Fanny is getting ideas above her station, but Sir Thomas insists that she go and take the carriage. Edmund goes too, and on their arrival they find that Henry Crawford has just returned.
  • It becomes clear to Miss Crawford that Edmund will be taking orders as a priest very shortly, and that as a result he will never be rich. She is determined to marry a rich man, and had hoped he would change his mind and find a more lucrative profession, but she is disappointed. She also suspects that Fanny has more than cousinly feelings for Edmund - and she is absolutely right.
  • Fanny receives a letter from her brother William to say he has returned to England after seven years at sea. Sir Thomas immediately invites him to stay at Mansfield and Fanny is overjoyed to see him again at last.
Fanny's first ball
  • Henry Crawford, in the absence of any other amusement, decides to make Fanny fall in love with him. He does manage to make Fanny feel a little more kindly towards him than before, but she continues to dislike him, and is certainly not in love with him.
  • Sir Thomas decides to hold a ball for William and Fanny; this will be Fanny's first ball and she is very excited. Her enjoyment is marred only by the idea that Edmund is about to propose to Miss Crawford.
  • William has given Fanny a cross but she has no chain for it. Miss Crawford presses a necklace on her that her brother gave her but which is surplus to her own requirements, but Edmund then gives her a chain which is much more suitable. To avoid offending either, Fanny wears both to the ball.
  • At the ball, Fanny dances with Henry Crawford to start with and later with Edmund. She much enjoys the ball, but the next day her brother leaves with Henry Crawford on his way back to Portsmouth. Edmund leaves the following day to be ordained, and Fanny is left alone at Mansfield Park with her aunt and uncle. Even Miss Crawford is somewhat depressed, as she is likely to leave for London before Edmund's return.
Henry Crawford declares himself
  • Henry Crawford confides to his sister that he has fallen in love with Fanny and is determined to marry her. Mary Crawford is astonished, but relieved, since if Fanny marries Henry, she will no longer be a threat to her planned marriage to Edmund. He has secured William Price's promotion to lieutenant, through the influence of his uncle, the Admiral, and expects this to help induce Fanny to fall in love with him. Both Crawfords therefore remain in Mansfield.
  • Henry proposes to Fanny; horrified, she refuses him, but he doesn't take no for an answer. He confesses his love to Sir Thomas, who is appalled when Fanny refuses to entertain the idea of marrying Mr Crawford. He eventually accepts her decision, but Mr Crawford does not and vows to persevere.
  • Edmund returns and far from discouraging Mr Crawford, is keen that Fanny should accept him. He had expected Mary Crawford to have left by the time he returned, and is much encouraged that she has not. He and Sir Thomas agree that Fanny should be left to consider Mr Crawford's proposal and think that she might come round to it, given time.
  • William returns for a few days on leave, and it is decided that Fanny should accompany him on his return to Portsmouth, and visit her own family for a while. Sir Thomas thinks this will bring home to her the lifestyle that she is rejecting by refusing Mr Crawford, and make her more likely to accept him.
  • The Crawfords depart for London, and Mary writes often to Fanny, always enclosing a few lines from her brother.
Fanny visits Portsmouth
  • Fanny and William arrive at their parents' house in Portsmouth. William has to leave immediately for his ship; Fanny is struck by how small and poor the house is in comparison with Mansfield Park. She is disappointed with her parents, who have very little time for her, but makes friends with her fourteen year-old sister, Susan.
  • Edmund has gone to London to propose to Mary Crawford, and has promised to write as soon as he has news. Mary continues to write to Fanny, and tells her that Mr Crawford has gone to his estate in Norfolk.
  • After about four weeks, to Fanny's astonishment Mr Crawford comes to call at the house and she is forced to introduce him to her family. She feels sure he will be completely put off the idea of marrying her when he has seen what her family is like, but to her surprise he is very polite and doesn't seem put off at all.
  • Edmund still hasn't written, and Mary Crawford makes no mention of any proposal in her letters. Finally he does write, to say that he has not yet proposed as Miss Crawford does not appear to feel as strongly towards him as she did before, and he fears that she may prefer the fashionable life in London to that of being his wife. Meanwhile Lady Bertram writes to say that Tom has fallen ill, and Edmund has gone to fetch him home.
Dramatic events in London and Fanny is called back to Mansfield
  • Tom is recovering, but the family suffers another blow. Maria has left Mr Rushworth and gone off with Mr Crawford to who knows where. Edmund is sent to London to try to find them, only to discover on his arrival that Julia has eloped with Mr Yates.
  • Fanny is now urgently needed at Mansfield Park to comfort her aunt and is invited to bring Susan with her. Edmund arrives the next morning to fetch them. Fanny is happy to be going home and to be with Edmund again, but he is very much depressed over what has happened. Once back at Mansfield Park, he tells Fanny that everything is over between he and Miss Crawford; she has treated his sister's affair with her brother as something to be covered up and made the best of, rather than seeing as he does, as an unforgivable sin and descent into vice.
  • Tom is horrified by his sisters' actions, particularly Maria. Mrs Norris is stunned almost into silence, as Maria was always her favourite niece. Lady Bertram accepts that she may never see her daughter again with her usual placidity. Sir Thomas, when he returns, is delighted to see Fanny there and Fanny has never felt so loved or so useful. Edmund remains very unhappy, but accepts that he was deceived into believing that Miss Crawford could ever have been the right wife for him.
Final resolutions
  • Tom has been suitably chastened by his sisters' behaviour, and once his health is recovered he does not return to his previous lifestyle but starts behaving himself and spending more time with his father. Julia returns with her new husband, both suitably apologetic and repentant, and eager to return to her family circle. She explains that she only eloped because she thought that Maria's actions had ruined her own reputation and that she would be seen as guilty by association.
  • Maria refuses to leave Mr Crawford and continues to live with him, hoping to marry him. He has no intention of marrying her, however, and they eventually separate. She wants to return to Mansfield Park, but Sir Thomas refuses, and eventually she sets up house with Mrs Norris, far away from home where no one knows them.
  • Mr Rushworth divorces Maria and resolves to do better next time he selects a wife. Sir Thomas blames himself for all that has passed and regrets that he did not bring up his daughters properly.
  • The Grants move to London and Mary Crawford goes to live with her sister. She decides that she won't even consider younger sons as potential husbands in future. Henry Crawford knows that he has lost Fanny for ever after running off with her cousin; he was genuinely in love with her and bitterly regrets what he did.
  • It finally dawns on Edmund that the right woman for him has been in front of him all along; he and Fanny are married. Fanny's place as Lady Bertram's help and support is taken by Susan, who takes up permanent residence at Mansfield Park.
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Austen for Beginners 2008

Austen for Beginners   Pride and Prejudice   Sense and Sensibility   Emma   Mansfield Park   Northanger Abbey   Persuasion