Synopses & Reviews
Through Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen views the social mores of her day and contemplates human nature itself. A shy and sweet-tempered girl adopted by wealthy relations, Fanny is an outsider looking in on an unfamiliar, and often inhospitable, world. But Fanny eventually wins the affection of her benefactors, endearing herself to the Bertram family and the reader alike.
In her Introduction, Carol Shields writes, [Mansfield Park's] overriding theme is difficult to isolate, since the novel is about everything it touches upon: nurturing, steadfastness, belonging and not belonging, about fine gradations of moral persuasion, about human noise and silence, and about action and stillness.
A poor relation adopted into a wealthy family, Fanny Price has only her good nature as a weapon in the battle to win the heart of the man she loves. In "Mansfield Park," a sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice, Austen at once challenges and embraces the mores of the day as only she can.
About the Author
Carol Shields is the author of Jane Austen (Penguin Lives), The Stone Diaries, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, Larry's Party, Happenstance, and Dressing Up for the Carnival, among other novels. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Reading Group Guide
1. Though it was very successful, Jane Austen deemed Pride and Prejudice, her second novel, ?rather too light.? As Carol Shields mentions in her Introduction, Austen hoped to address more serious issues in her next novel, Mansfield Park. Many readers and critics think Mansfield Park is Austen?s most serious and most profound novel. How does it differ from Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice ? How are her treatments of class, gender, relationships, and most especially, faith, more nuanced and more mature?
2. Describe the social positions of the three Ward sisters Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price. How did they arrive at such different circumstances and how have their circumstances presumably affected their personalities? How do the sisters treat each other and how much of this is the result of their respective status?
3. As soon as Sir Thomas decides to accept responsibility for one of Mrs. Price?s children, Fanny is put into an unusual position. Sir Bertram says, although she is to live with them, ?she is not a Miss Bertram . . . their rank, fortune, rights and expectations will always be different.? Describe the family?s feelings for Fanny as the novel develops. How does the treatment of Fanny by Mrs. Norris and the Bertram sisters distinguish her from the rest of the children? How does Fanny feel about the Bertrams and how do her feelings change, especially for Sir Bertram and Edmund? Before her marriage, what changes take place that allow for her acceptance in the family?
4. Fanny Price inspires strong reactions in readers; she is cast by some as a dreary killjoy, and by others as an endearing, admirable heroine. Is this dichotomy Austen?s intention? Discuss the ways in which Fanny embodies both sides of this polarized debate. What is your opinion of her in relation to other well-known female protagonists of the day?
5. Mansfield Park was divided into three volumes, published separately. Why do you think Austen chose this structure, and how does it affect your reading of the book? Think about other writing that employs this structure to inform your response.
6. From the moment the idea is suggested, Edmund is against the staging of a play. Why is the play seen as inappropriate by both Edmund and Fanny? Why, once it is decided upon, does Edmund accept a part in the play, even though he would appear a hypocrite? How much of this license was taken because of the absence of Sir Thomas and how much was simply the influence of Tom? What is the significance of their choice of plays, Lover?s Vows?
7. Describe the similarities and differences between the courtship of Edmund and Mary and that of Fanny and Henry. What are the stumbling blocks in these two courtships that cause them to fail? To what extent were the trials of these courtships responsible for Edmund?s change of heart toward Fanny?