Jane Austen on Her Mansfield Park
As we begin celebrating the bicentenary of the publication of Mansfield Park [it was first advertised on May 9, 1814 in The Star], I post here all the references that Jane Austen made in her letters to her third book. My intention for the year ahead is to post about MP’s publishing history and the variety of illustrated and collectible editions. Then a post on Austen’s own “Opinions of Mansfield Park” where she collected and recorded all the comments from family and friends [she also did this for Emma] – she may have called P&P her “own darling Child” – but I think it is “universally acknowledged” that her very own favorite was MP – she seemed most concerned about others’ reactions to it and was discouraged that no review of MP appeared at the time of its publication. And then I will post on sequels / continuations – not as many as the other works [doesn’t anyone think of Edmund as a romantic Hero? – why hasn’t an oversized sculpture of him been dragged into the Serpentine?], but interesting all the same! … But first: her own commentary on MP – again, there is that feeling of Austen hovering over my shoulder as I read the letters – if only one could ask the many questions we all have – if you could, what would you ask Jane Austen about Mansfield Park?
1. Austen, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letters. 3rd ed., edited by Deirdre Le Faye. Oxford, 1997. [I have the 4th edition but alas! it is not with me at present, so I continue to cite the 3rd ed.]
2. _____. Mansfield Park. Introd. Jane Stabler. Oxford, 2008, c2003.
2. Gilson, David. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. Oak Knoll, 1997.
Image: Mansfield Park 1st edition, Printed for T. Egerton, 1814.
According to Cassandra Austen’s memorandum with regard to the writing of the novels, Austen was working on Mansfield Park from February 1811, finished soon after June 1813. These early letters make it clear that Cassandra was familiar with the story all along…
- Ltr. 78 Sunday 24 January 1813 from Chawton to Cassandra at Steventon (p. 198-99)
I learn from Sir J. Carr that there is no Government House at Gibraltar. – I must alter it to the Commissioner’s.
NOTE: The Commissioner held a shore-posting, usually as rank of Captain; often given to injured sea officers. He was responsible to the administration of naval accounts at a local level. [MP, Oxford, 410]
Carr is not in the Le Faye index …, but according to Gilson, this is Sir John Carr, author of Descriptive Travels in the Southern and Eastern parts of Spain and the Balearic Isles in the year 1809. (1811) – and what Austen must have read to confirm this information [Gilson, 48]
Austen uses it here:
He [Henry Crawford] honoured the warm–hearted, blunt fondness of the young sailor [William Price], which led him to say, with his hands stretched towards Fanny’s head, “Do you know, I begin to like that queer fashion already, though when I first heard of such things being done in England, I could not believe it; and when Mrs. Brown, and the other women at the Commissioner’s at Gibraltar, appeared in the same trim, I thought they were mad; but Fanny can reconcile me to anything”… [MP, Vol. II, ch. vi]
In the same letter (78), Austen writes:
As soon as a Whist party was formed & a round Table threatened, I made my Mother an excuse, & came away; leaving just as many for their round Table, as there were at Ms. Grants. – I wish they might be as agreable a set.
NOTE: round table = eleven, less 4 for whist, and JA, leaves 6. The round table in MP consisted of Lady Bertram and Edmund, 2 Prices, and 2 Crawfords [Le Faye, 410].
- Ltr. 79. Friday 29 January 1813. From Chawton to Cassandra at Steventon (p. 202)
After a rather lengthy paragraph on the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen jumps into another topic:
Now I will try to write of something else; – it shall be a complete change of subject – Ordination. I am glad to find your enquiries have ended so well. – If you discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows, I sh’d be glad again.
NOTE: This line has led early scholars to believe that she was referring to the theme of her newest novel – but if we notice the previous letter’s references to MP, we know that she is nearly half-way through its composition. Le Faye notes that the “enqueries” no doubt refer to the time necessary for the process of ordination – i.e. how long Edmund Bertram might be kept away from Mansfield Park for this purpose. Cassandra was then staying with James Austen, and could have provided these details. [Le Faye, 411]
Image: 17th century map of Northamptonshire, by John Speed (wikipedia)
NOTE: The hedgerows reference: Chapman assumed this meant Austen was thinking of using the device in MP she later uses in Persuasion [Anne overhearing the conversation between Capt. Wentworth and Louisa] – Cassandra told her there were no hedgerows in Northamptonshire – but she does use this in MP:
“This is pretty, very pretty,” said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day; “every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as anything, or capable of becoming anything;…” [MP, vol. II, ch. IV]
- Ltr. 82 Tuesday 16 February 1813. From Chawton to Martha Lloyd [in Kintsbury]. (p. 208).
A reference to her questions about Northamptonshire as in the above letter to Cassandra.
I am obliged to you for your inquiries about Northamptonshire, but do not wish you to renew them, as I am sure of getting the intelligence I want from Henry, to whom I can apply at some convenient moment “sans peur et sans reproche.” [without fear and without reproach]
- Ltr. 86. Saturday 3 – Tuesday 6 July 1813. From Chawton to Capt. Francis Austen on the HMS Elephant, Baltic. (p. 217)
Here she refers to MP as not being as entertaining as P&P, and asks her sailor brother if she can mention his Ships:
You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S&S is sold…I have now therefore written myself into £250. – which only makes me long for more. I have something in hand – which I hope on the credit of P. & P. will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining. And by the bye – shall you object to my mentioning the Elephant in it, & two or three other of your old Ships? – I have done it, but it shall not stay, to make you angry. – They are only just mentioned.
NOTE: the ships mentioned in MP are the Cleopatra, Elephant, and Endymion.
Image: HMS Cleopatra, by Nicholas Pocock (Wikipedia)
- Ltr. 90. Saturday 25 September 1813. From Godmersham Park To Francis Austen, HMS Elephant, Baltic. (p. 231)
Where she thanks her brother for permission to use his ships, tells him that the great Secret of her as author is now quite public, and goes on to lay the blame on Henry for telling all!
I thank you very warmly for your kind consent to my application & the kind hint which followed it. – I was previously aware of what I sh’d be laying myself open to – but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now – & that I believe whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. – I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. – People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them…
- Ltr. 97. Wednesday 2 – Thursday 3 March 1814. From London (Henrietta St.) to Cassandra in Chawton. (p. 255-56)
Austen is travelling with Henry to London – it is assumed the reading she refers to is the proof-sheets of MP – she is returning to London in hopes of having Egerton publish the book in April.
We did not begin reading till Bentley Green. Henry’s approbation hitherto is even equal to my wishes; he says it is very different from the other two, but not appear to think it at all inferior. He has only married Mrs. R. I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part. – He took to Lady B. & Mrs. N most kindly, & gives great praise to the drawing of the Characters. He understands them all, likes Fanny & I think foresees how it will all be.
Henry is going on with Mansfield Park; he admires H. Crawford – I mean properly – as a clever, pleasant Man. – I tell you all the Good I can, as I know how much you will enjoy it…
Image: “His [Henry Crawford] reading was capital.” Vol. III, ch. iii. (Mollands)
Austen makes reference to a “Frederick” when referring to Christopher (Tilson) Chowne – it has been suggested that perhaps he played the role of Frederick in Lovers’ Vows at one of many amateur theatricals at Steventon. [Le Faye, 429]
- Ltr. 98. Saturday 5 – Tuesday 8 March 1814. From Henrietta St. to Cassandra at Chawton. (p. 258)
Henry has this moment said that he likes my M. P. better & better; – he is in the 3d vol. – I believe now he has changed his mind as to foreseeing the end; – he said yesterday at least that he defied anybody to say whether H. C. would be reformed, or would forget Fanny in a fortnight.
- Ltr. 99. Wednesday 9 March 1814. From Henrietta St. to Cassandra at Chawton. (p. 261)
Henry has finished Mansfield Park. & his approbation has not lessened. He found the last half of the last volume extremely interesting.
- Ltr. 100. Monday 21 March 1814. From London (Henrietta St) to Francis Austen ? (p. 262) – fragment only
Perhaps before the end of April, Mansfield park by the author of S&S.– P.&P. may be in the World. Keep the name to yourself. I sh’d not like to have it know beforehand.
In addition to their [Mr. and Mrs. Cooke] standing claims on me, they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly. Mr. Cooke says “it is the most sensible Novel he ever read” – and the manner in which I treat the Clergy, delights them very much. [Mr. Cooke was Rev. Samuel Cooke]
Image: Jane Austen and the Clergy, by Irene Collins (2004)
- Ltr. 102. Thursday 23 Jun 1814. From Chawton to Cassandra in London. (p. 265)
We have called upon Miss Dusautoy & Miss Papillon & been very pretty. – Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price, she & her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny.
Image: Fanny Price – Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny, MP (BBC, 1983)
(Miss Dashwood blog)
- Ltr. 106. Friday 2 September 1814. From London (Henrietta St) to Martha Lloyd in Bath. (p. 274)
Mr. Barlowe is to dine with us today, & I am in some hope of getting Egerton’s account before I go away.
NOTE: Mr. Barlowe is an employee of Henry’s London bank – she refers here to Egerton’s account of the 1st edition of MP. [Le Faye, 436.]
- Ltr. 109. Friday 18-Sunday 20 November 1814. From Chawton to Fanny Knight at Goodnestone Park, Kent. (p. 281)
Image: Goodnestone Park website
You will be glad to hear that the first Edit. of M.P. is all sold. – Your Uncle Henry is rather wanting me to come to Town, to settle about a 2d Edit: – but as I could not very conveniently leave home now, I have written him my Will & pleasure, & unless he still urges it, shall not go. – I am very greedy and want to make the most of it; – but as you are much above caring about money, I shall not plague with my particulars.- The pleasures of Vanity are more within your comprehension, & you will enter into mine, at receiving the praise which every now & then comes to me, through some channel or other.-
- Ltr. 110. Tuesday 22 November 1814. From Chawton to Anna Lefroy in Hendon. (p. 282)
Make everybody at Hendon admire Mansfield Park.-
- Ltr. 111. ?Thursday 24 November 1814. From Chawton to Anna Lefroy in Hendon. (p. 282-83)
Mrs. Creed’s opinion is gone down on my list [i.e. her opinions of MP list]; but fortunately I may excuse myself from entering Mr as my paper only relates to Mansfield Park. I will redeem my credit with him, by writing a close Imitation of “Self-control” as soon as I can; – I will improve upon it…
NOTE: Self-Control was a novel written by Mary Brunton (1811) – Austen refers to it in her letters three times:
Ltr. 72 (p. 186): We have tried to get Self-controul, but in vain.- I should like to know where her Estimate is – but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever – & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled.
Ltr. 91 (p. 234). I am looking over Self-Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its’ being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does.
Ltr. 111 (p. 283). I will redeem my credit with him, by writing a close Imitation of “Self-control” as soon as I can; – I will improve upon it; – my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, & never stop till she reaches Gravesent.-
- Ltr. 114. 30 November 1814. From London (Hans Place) to Fanny Knight at Godmersham Park, Kent. (p. 287)
Contains one of Austen’s most-quoted lines:
Thank you – but it is not settled yet whether I do hazard a 2d Edition. We are to see Egerton today, when it will probably be determined. – People are more ready to borrow & praise, than to buy – which I cannot wonder at; – but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.
NOTE: We know that Egerton did not publish this hoped for 2nd edition – Did he refuse? Did he not offer good terms? Or was Jane Austen displeased with Egerton’s printing of the 1st edition? We do not know, but Austen moved to the firm of John Murray to publish her Emma, and Murray took on the 2nd ed of MP, which was published on February 19, 1816.
- Ltr. 121. Tuesday 17 – Wednessday 18 October 1815. From London (Hans Place)to Cassandra at Chawton. (p. 291)
Mr Murray’s Letter is come; he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one. He offers £450- but wants to have the Copyright of MP. & S&S included. It will end in my publishing for myself I dare say. – He sends more praise however than I expected. It is an amusing Letter. You shall see it.
- Ltr. 122 (A) (D). ?Friday 20 / Saturday 21 October 1815. From Henry Austen in London to John Murray [in
London]. (p. 293-94)
I include this letter because it shows Henry’s involvement in his sister’s publishing history – he was very ill at the time and Jane was his nurse. She was in London at Hans Place to negotiate the publication of Emma, as well as the 2nd ed. of MP… [see my previous post on this letter ] – I just love the line: “great Error in my Arithmetical Calculation”!
[A Letter to Mr. Murray which Henry dictated a few days after his Illness began, & just before the severe Relapse which threw him into such Danger. – ]
Severe illness has confined me to my Bed ever since I received Yours of ye 15th – I cannot yet hold a pen, & employ an Amuensis [sic]. – The Politeness & Perspicuity of your Letter equally claim my earliest Exertion. – Your official opinion of the Merits of Emma, is very valuable & satisfactory. – Though I venture to differ occasionally from your Critique, yet I assure you the Quantum of your commendation rather exceeds than falls short of the Author’s expectation & my own. – The Terms you offer are so very inferior to what we had expected, that I am apprehensive of having made some great Error in my Arithmetical Calculation. – On the subject of the expense & profit of publishing, you must be much better informed that I am; – but Documents in my possession appear to prove that the Sum offered by you, for the Copyright of Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park & Emma, is not equal to the Money which my Sister has actually cleared by one very moderate Edition of Mansfield Park –(You Yourself expressed astonishment that so small an Edit. of such a work should have been sent into the World) & a still smaller one of Sense & Sensibility.- …
Image of Henry Austen: Jasna.org, essay by Kristen Miller Zohn
- Ltr. 124. Friday 3 November 1815. From London (Hans Place) to John Murray. (p. 295)
I mention this letter because it shows how involved Jane Austen was in her own publishing ventures. Here she writes about Henry being ill, requesting Murray to visit her at Hans Place to discuss Emma – she might have wished to also talk about the 2nd edition of MP – note that the drafted letter above to Murray was actually not sent until after this one; it also has one of my favorite lines from the letters, which I have underlined
My Brother’s severe Illness has prevented his replying to Yours of Oct. 15, on the subject of the MS of Emma, now in your hands-and as he is, though recovering, still in a state which we are fearful of harrassing by Business & I am at the same time desirous of coming to some decision on the affair in question, I must request the favour of you to call on me here, any day that may suit you best, at any hour in the Evening, or any in the Morning except from Eleven to One. – A short conversation may perhaps do more than much Writing.
My Brother begs his Compts & best Thanks for your polite attention in supplying him with a Copy of Waterloo.
I am Sir
Your Ob. Hum: Servt
- Ltr. 125 (A). Thursday 16 November 1815. From James Stanier Clarke (Carlton House) to Jane Austen at Hans Place, London. (p. 296)
I include this because Clarke singles out MP so, which must have gratified her very much! I think Clarke had quite the crush on Jane Austen:
Your late Works, Madam, and in particular Mansfield Park reflect the highest honour on your Genius & your Principles; in every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and powers of discrimination. The Regent has read & admired all your publications…
Image: James Stanier Clarke (wikipedia)
NOTE: See more on the letters between Austen and Clarke and her visit to Carlton House here: https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/a-visit-to-carlton-house-november-13-1815/
- Ltr. 128. Sunday 26 November 1815. From London (Hans Place) to Cassandra [at Chawton ]. (p. 301)
Mr. H. [Haden] is reading Mansfield Park for the first time & prefers it to P&P.
NOTE: I think Austen and / or her niece Fanny had a wild crush on Charles Thomas Haden. He was a London surgeon. She calls him ” a sort of wonderful nondescript Creature on two Legs, something between a Man & an Angel” [Le Faye, Ltr. 129, p. 303)
- Ltr. 130. Monday 11 December 1815. From London (Hans Place) to John Murray in London. (p. 305)
I return also, Mansfield Park, as ready for a 2d Edit: I believe, as I can make it.
NOTE: It is unknown whether Austen gave Murray a marked-up copy of the first edition [which had many errors], or she was working from new galleys…
- Ltr. 132(D). Monday 11 December 1815. From London (Hans Place) to James Stanier Clarke (London). (p. 306)
I must make use of this opportunity to thank you, dear Sir, for the very high praise you bestow on my other Novels – I am too vain to wish to convince you that you have praised them beyond their Merit.
My greatest anxiety at present is that this 4th work shd not disgrace what was good in the others. … I am very strongly haunted with the idea that to those Readers who have preferred P&P. it will appear inferior in Wit, & to those who have preferred MP. very inferior in good Sense.
- Ltr. 134(A). Wednesday 27 December 1815. From the Countess of Morley at Saltram to Jane Austen at Chawton. (p. 308)
I am already become intimate in the Woodhouse family, & feel that they will not amuse & interest me less than the Bennetts [sic], Bertrams, Norriss & all their admirable predecessors – I can give them no higher praise-
NOTE: At the time, many believed the Countess of Morley to be the Authoress of both S&S and P&P.
Ltr. 139. Monday 1 April 1816. From Chawton to John Murray in London. (p. 313)
I return you the Quarterly Review with many Thanks. The Authoress of Emma has no reason I think to complain of her treatment in it – except in the total omission of Mansfield Park. – I cannot but be sorry that so clever a Man as the Reveiwer of Emma should consider it as unworthy of being noticed.
This is Austen’s final word on MP in her letters: she is peeved that MP is not mentioned in this anonymous review – we know now this reviewer of Emma was Sir Walter Scott, but did Austen know that?? Recall that she wrote this about him to her niece Anna, tongue in cheek of course, as we know that she liked his work very much:
Image: Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, by Henry Raeburn (wikipedia)
Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. – He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it-but fear I must. [Ltr. 108, p. 277]
Image: C.E. Brock – “Oh, this is beautiful indeed!”
Mansfield Park, Vol. II, ch. ix (Mollands)
Stay tuned for more on Mansfield Park. You might also like to follow Sarah Emsley’s (and guests’) blog posts on MP, which will begin in May: http://sarahemsley.com/2014/01/01/200-years-of-mansfield-park/
And I ask again: if you could, what would you ask Jane Austen about Mansfield Park?
A quick response – Deb, this post is a tour de force!
Excellent post, as always, Deb. :)
However, Jane Austen also collected “Opinions of Emma”, so MP was not the only novel for which she did that. I cannot remember at the moment where it is suggested she might have started collecting them because MP did not received any review at the time of its publication, latter on she followed by collecting those on E. Of course there are none from NA or P since they were posthumously published.
You are correct Cinthia about Emma – I had a complete brain lapse there! – yikes! – and have them right on my bookshelf in Chapman’s Minor Works as well as Southam’s Critical Heritage – there are a good number of “opinions of Emma” and it did receive reviews at the time, unlike MP, which I think discouraged her a great deal… thanks for the heads-up! – have corrected my “lapse” and submitted to 20 lashes with a wet noodle… and shall remain shame-faced most of the day…!
It’s fascinating to trace Austen’s references to MP in her letters – thanks for the guided tour, Deb! And thank you very much for sharing the link to the series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Mansfield Park on my blog. I’m really looking forward to reading your guest post on the “dead silence” that follows Fanny’s question about the slave trade.
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