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Nora Bartlett

Published On


Page Range

pp. 155-174

Print Length

19 pages

10. What’s Wrong with Mansfield Park

  • Nora Bartlett (author)
Chapter of: Jane Austen: Reflections of a Reader(pp. 155–174)
This chapter focuses on Mrs. Jennings. Noted is the importance of the Austen family to Jane Austen's writing, as well as the expectations on her after her first novel was published. Bartlett examines the continuity between Austen's juvenilia and her later writing, particularly Sense and Sensibility. The first section is titled, "Books within Books", partly referring to Austen's juvenile writings—and how many of these very short “novels” were drawn together to achieve a long narrative such as Sense and Sensibility. Bartlett comments on how characters' stories in the novel are given ample space (another reference to “books within books”), particularly Mrs. Jennings. The next section is titled "Two Vulgar Women", where Bartlett examines the complexity with which Mrs. Jennings' character is depicted and developed—and contrasts her to Pride and Prejudice's Mrs. Bennet (and the style Austen uses to represent her). Bartlett explores Austen's writing: the capacity to retain a sympathetic sense of the existence of other people when not immediately confronted with them is of the highest importance to her. The final section is titled "The Vulgar Woman and the Lady: Two Matchmakers": a comparison between Mrs. Jennings and Emma, the vulgar woman and the born lady, both matchmakers. Bartlett explores how Mrs Jennings’ matchmaking is very different from Emma Woodhouse’s because it is founded in a realism about women’s aspirations, their opportunities and expectations. That is contrasted with Emma's selfish, ignorant, and unrealistic matchmaking. Finally, Bartlett comments on the end of Sense and Sensibility as it relates to Mrs. Jennings' matchmaking. In this chapter, Bartlett examines Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as a troubling and complicated novel. Three parts are explored: what's the matter with the estate of Mansfield Park; the presentation of Fanny; and Fanny and the men in her life. Bartlett looks at the novel's opening, including its unique retrospective; card games and their deeper meaning in this novel and Pride and Prejudice; and Mansfield Park's impact on people, especially women. Bartlett comments on something missing in Mansfield Park: that wonderful cross-fertilization between different social strata and contrasting personality types. Discussed is Fanny's intelligence, morality, and growth; her impact in chapter one; and how she changes Mansfield Park. Bartlett comments on Mansfield Park as a psychological study and makes a comparison to Emma. The social aspect (and likeability) of Fanny is explored and compared to Austen's other heroines. There is a revealing examination of Fanny's childhood, including her impactful conversation with Edmund. Bartlett further examines narration in Mansfield Park; the comedy of characters contradicting themselves; and the revealing characteristic dialogue from some characters, excluding Fanny. Bartlett explores the deeper meaning behind the refusal to accept substitutes in this novel; and Fanny's feelings (and treatment) as a "nothing." Discussed is the plot and casting of Lovers' Vows; Austen's involvement with plays; and the Austen family's dislike of Fanny, as well as the problems they found in the novel. Lastly, Bartlett looks at Mr. Crawford, including his failings; lovely moments in the closing pages; and hidden passion in Mansfield Park and Emma.


Nora Bartlett