Mansfield Park: Episode 1, Chapters 1-3

In this episode, we read the first three chapters of Mansfield Park. We give a brief publishing history, and talk about how the opening chapters really prepare the way for the rest of the book, with all of the characters and relationships being set up, how the three Miss Wards come from a not dissimilar background from Pride and Prejudice’s Miss Gardiners (Mrs Bennet and Mrs Phillips), and how the novel’s themes of education and principle are introduced. The character we talk about is Mrs Norris.

In a longer than usual historical segment, Ellen talks about the historical background to Sir Thomas’s estate in Antigua, and the extent to which all members of the gentry were complicit in slavery. We follow this up with a conversation on how discussions of slavery are now part of the discourse on Mansfield Park. Harriet identifies four different approaches:

  • People who can’t read the book because of the connection with slavery
  • People who feel that perhaps the estate in Antigua did not use enslaved people
  • People who feel that the novel is about slavery – and, specifically, that it is an abolitionist novel
  • People who feel that slavery is part of the context of the novel – one of the aspects of Janen Austen’s society that today we find abhorrent – but it is not a focus of the novel. We need to be open to discussing the novel in a post-colonial light, but that does not mean the novel is about slavery.

We would like to thank Damianne Scott, who runs the Facebook page Black Girl Loves Jane, for reviewing the historical segment for us, and providing feedback.

To finish the episode, Harriet gives an overview of various popular culture versions of Mansfield Park.

Things we mention:

General and character discussion:

  • Deirdre Le Faye [Editor], Jane Austen’s Letters (1969)
  • Mary Brunton, Self-Control (1810) – this is the book about which Jane Austen criticised the lack of ‘natural, possible, every-day things’
  • Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern, Talking of Jane Austen (1943) and More Talk of Jane Austen (1950

Historical discussion:

Popular culture discussion:

Creative commons music used:

4 thoughts on “<em>Mansfield Park</em>: Episode 1, Chapters 1-3”

  1. Glad to see this is back!
    As an aside, I noted that the two actors who play Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 BBC version, Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell, appear as husband and wife in the film Amazing Grace as very strong supporters of William Wilberforce’s abolition campaign.
    Maybe in an alternate universe, this could be Fanny and Edmund as an older, married couple and realising where their family’s wealth came from and trying to make amends with their support!

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  2. A thought on Mrs. Norris: you say she didn’t need to be so concerned about her place with the Bertrams, and I think that’s probably true as far as Sir Thomas’s opinion. But I think there’s reason for her paranoia: see how Mrs. Price is treated. She’s almost entirely cut off from the family and left to live in poverty. If unfortunate circumstances of marriage could cut off one sister, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to another?

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    • It’s a valid point, but I think there are two significant differences: Fanny’s mother actively defied her family to get married, and a key player in the split from the family was Mrs Norris herself! There’s also the social element, in that Mrs Price made a step down in society, whereas even without money, Mrs Norris would be the genteel widow of a clergyman. Having said that, though, her connection with Mansfield keeps her in a higher social circle, and I can certainly see that she would be wary of anything that might risk that.

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