Some of Jane Austen’s Characters in Mansfield Park ~ Guest Post by Chris Sandrawich, Part III

Gentle Readers: Here is Chris’s third post on Mansfield Park – let’s hear what he has to say about Mrs. Norris!

Some of Mansfield Park’s characters

by Chris Sandrawich

Mrs Norris is a really interesting character and quite important to the plotting of the whole novel. It is after all her idea, and her desire, that brings Fanny Price from Portsmouth to Mansfield Park. It is also her wish, mainly to avoid any expense, that her own involvement will be at arm’s length and that Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram will raise Fanny and house her. The inter-relationship of Sir Thomas Bertram with Mrs Norris is also very important especially as it affects Fanny Price, but also as it affects Maria and Julia.

Just as with the naming of the novel giving links to the slave trade what may we make of the name Norris? In Jane Austen’s day a notorious slave trader Robert Norris gave evidence in support of the slave trade which is staggering when compared to the reality of extreme over-crowding with the slaves’ transportation: However, during a Parliamentary investigation, a witness for the slave trade, Robert Norris, described how ‘delightful’ the slave ships were. The enslaved people, he suggested, had sufficient room, sufficient air, and sufficient provisions. When upon deck, they made merry and amused themselves with dancing… In short, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies was one of the happiest periods of their life! Is the naming for Mrs Norris, the story’s villain, coincidental? Perhaps it is, but as with the use of “Mansfield” I think Jane Austen was making a direct reference to the slave trade.

Mrs Norris - 1986

Mrs Norris (Anna Massey) – BBC, 1983

Mrs Norris and Sir Thomas are both powerful characters who create change and affect other characters. About the only character not affected by them, or anything much really, is Lady Bertram who carries on relaxing on the sofa with Pug in much the same way no matter what is going on. It’s been suggested that she’s quietly boozing liqueur or stoned on laudanum but I rather think that in the gene share out her two sisters got all the ‘activity genes’ the family could spare. The mention of Pug raises one of Jane Austen’s rare mistakes. In Chapter VII of Volume I, Lady Bertram says “ . . . . . calling for Pug, and trying to keep him from the flower beds” but much later on in Volume III she is thinking of offering Fanny a puppy next time Pug has a litter.

Mrs Norris and Harry Potter? J K Rowling’s website claims that her favourite author is Jane Austen. So is the choice of name, Mrs Norris, for the Hogwarts’ Caretaker’s nosey, busybody cat who is forever on the prowl a co-incidence? I checked out this notion elsewhere on her website and an unsupported claim for a deliberate choice is made; but the jury is still out, I think.

Sir Thomas Bertram fatefully misjudges Mrs Norris. He thinks she is kind and well-meaning, as Mrs Norris does herself, and his authority as a father already weakened by his remote and austere countenance – which creates a gulf that separates him from his daughters and Fanny – allows a vacuum that Mrs Norris fills. Sir Thomas believes his approach and that of Mrs Norris will combine and average out in their effect producing overall a beneficial result. However, his daughters simply avoid showing their real selves to him, and take the full measure of Mrs Norris’s flattery and blindness to their faults that allows them to think and do as they wish, and not as they should. Mrs Norris is free to oppress and bully Fanny unmercifully and all in the name of maintaining the distinction between her and her cousins.

Mrs Norris habitually claims to be poor, She does not have much income, she says, and often she exclaims that she will not “Withhold her mite” when suggesting she may make a contribution. To be fair to Mrs Norris I do not think she meant the coin, ‘the Mite’ defunct since Tudor times and a small fraction of an old penny. No, she’s probably alluding to

Widow's Mite - wikipedia

Widow’s Mite – wikipedia

the “Widow’s Mite” mentioned by both Mark and Luke in the bible, were Jesus suggests two such coins from a poor widow were worth more to God than the extravagant but proportionately lesser contributions of richer people. This is typical of Mrs Norris’ style: do not give much but make out it is proportionately worth more than others give, and every time there is a suggestion of cash contributions required talk of the mite.

This works perfectly in the case of the cash given to William by Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris when he leaves for Portsmouth with Henry Crawford. Here is the extract from Chapter 31 (in which it has already been discovered that William has been made a Lieutenant), which is very funny:

 She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable; that is, for her, with her limited means, for now it would all be useful in helping to fit up his cabin. She knew he must be at some expense, that he would have many things to buy, though to be sure his father and mother would be able to put him in the way of getting everything very cheap; but she was very glad she had contributed her mite towards it.”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only 10.”

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!”

“Sir Thomas told me 10 would be enough.”

Mrs. Norris, being not at all inclined to question its sufficiency, began to take the matter in another point.

Austen-Leigh in his book A Memoir of Jane Austen said that Jane Austen told her family that the “considerable sum” given was only £1. So we can see that Mrs Norris is perfectly happy to leave her sister in ignorance and thinking she had given much more than the £10 Lady Bertram had given.

How badly off is Mrs Norris? We are told she is on £600 pa or £36,000 – £480,000 which if you remember Edward Ferrar’s situation in Sense and Sensibility is very much the same as he was willing to be happily married on, although in the end he gets slightly more. Families on £850 pa could afford to run a carriage. There is no mention of her rental terms on Sir Thomas’s land but we can assume she negotiated herself a peppercorn rent. With her energy and a restless eye on opportunity one imagines that a steady flow of produce from the Bertram’s kitchen gardens and fields along with game and fruits in season comes her way. She also spends much of her time at the “big house” taking her meals there as well as benefitting from any heating and lighting. Every servant could be frightened or cajoled into helping Mrs Norris walk off with anything useful so as not to be on the wrong end of a bad report from Mrs Norris. It would be a powerful motivation. She has some servants of her own but not many. Louis Simond in his book gives many useful figures and a manservant at that time would cost £40pa but a maid only £15 as would a cook. I find it hard when I speculate upon her budget to see how she spends, when begrudging every penny lost in expense, even up to one third of her income. After all a Curate’s rate of pay for performing all that the Rector ought to do was generally £50pa and he did not starve. If Mrs Norris is managing to add £400 a year to her capital then over the period of the novel you could argue that she adds £4000 to her savings and another therefore a further £200pa to her income. She lives alone and walks everywhere and at all times avoids any expense. The conclusion must be that Mrs Norris is miserly natured and is unreasonably worried that she might starve.

Her relationship with the Grants gets off to a frosty start over “dilapidations” which is a technical term and refers to the sums required to make good an ecclesiastical property on handing it over. I imagine, because the actual conversations are never revealed, that Mrs Norris was well-armed in advance for Dr Grant opening the subject and responds with a torrent of words. A torrent of words is her basic strategy. Dr Grant may soon have been fed up with hearing, “Good as new” and “Fair wear and tear” as well as “Widow’s mite” and be pleased to save his ears by dropping the subject and be left to restore the property at his own expense and then be grumpy about it later.

HM Brock - Mrs Norris - Mollands

HM Brock – Mrs Norris – Mollands

We see early on in the novel how Mrs Norris “beats down” opposition to her own viewpoint by a shrewd mixture of anticipating the points to be made against and rebutting them with a torrent of words. She manages the “debate” by being the only speaker and takes both sides in turn ending up as Judge and Jury as well as speaking for and against the motion. When, right at the start of the novel, Mrs Norris is giving her views on the advisability of bringing Fanny to Mansfield Park she cleverly forecasts all Sir Thomas’s fears and as soon as he starts to air his doubts interrupts him and gives him answers to all objections whether stated or not. She does in fact construct a flow of nearly 400 words by the end of which he is left with nothing to say but to agree. It might be noted that Sir Thomas’s principal concern that he would be raising Fanny to marry one of his sons turns out to be well-founded.

We see Mrs Norris throughout the novel acquiring cloth, or wood materials, or cut flowers. In her shining hour with the visit to Sotherton she comes back with: a beautiful little heath from the gardener, a large cream cheese from Mrs Whittaker, and four beautiful pheasant’s eggs as well. Fatefully she has been so busy angling for these gifts, “but they were forced upon me” that she has no idea whatsoever what Maria was up to in the wilderness. Her actual supervision when acting “in loco parentis” is negligible and both Julia and Maria are happy to know it will be.

It was most unfortunate that Sir Thomas ever suggested to Mrs Norris that the distinction between his daughters and Fanny needed to be preserved at outset and he sees this as a delicate and difficult task and tragically leaves its implementation to Mrs Norris who sees it as an easy task. She just bullies Fanny unmercifully. She keeps Fanny low and never stops reminding her that her only role, for which she must be eternally grateful, is as an unpaid helper. This, of course, includes helping Mrs Norris do anything she asks. Sir Thomas initially misjudges Mrs Norris by thinking her kind and benevolent, and certainly Mrs Norris so little knows herself that she thinks of herself as the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world.

Certainly by the end of the novel Sir Thomas when reflecting on all that has gone wrong:

  • Blames himself for allowing Maria’s marriage and owns that his daughter’s true sentiments being insufficiently known to him was his fault alone
  • Suffers much anguish over the poor education and upbringing of his daughters, as it became obvious that they did not adhere to their first duties and that he did not know their real character and temper
  • He had hoped that his gravity and Mrs Norris’s favouritism would cancel or average out in effect, but he realises that his daughters merely hid their behaviour from him and that the excessive indulgence and flattery from Aunt Norris was a real evil
  • Realised that his opinion of Mrs Norris had been steadily sinking since his return from Antigua, but that he had badly formed his opinion of her in the first place.

It’s a miracle in a way that with Sir Thomas’s grave manner and blindness, Mrs Norris’s perpetual bullying and Julia and Maria’s unsisterly contempt and aversion to include Fanny in anything; that Fanny grows up untouched by all the negativity and criticism direct or implied.

CE Brock - MP - Mollands

CE Brock – MP – Mollands

“The kind pains you took to…persuade me out of my fears”

Fanny after a slow low start, with Edmund’s support and kindness, educates herself finding the correct manner in which to regulate her behaviour and to view the world and so Fanny gradually rises on the stepping stones of her dead selves to become all that Sir Thomas, or any parent, could want in a daughter. Let’s remind ourselves of her development from age 10 to the night of her coming out ball:

  • She was small for her age with no glow of complexion nor any other striking beauty, exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking away from notice, but her air though awkward was not vulgar, her voice was sweet when she spoke and her countenance was pretty
  • Young pretty and gentle . . . . . . she had no awkwardnesses that were not as good as graces . . . . . . she was attractive, she was modest, she was Sir Thomas’s niece and soon said to be admired by Mr Crawford . . . . . .

And Jane Austen cleverly maintains the same basic character but subtly presents her significant development as well.

As Fanny grows from obscurity to become the star attraction Mrs Norris’s star falls from her position of influence and power to the restriction of living with her disgraced niece Maria and to be well aware of Sir Thomas not wishing her back. So, we have looked at how Fanny has developed in appearance but what of her mind? We get a clear idea of the growth in Fanny’s mental powers, her clear reasoning, her unfailing moral standards, her lucidity and passion in the outpouring she gives on the subject of memory to an unlistening, inattentive Mary Crawford. Fanny is talking of how the effect of nature has changed the view being looked at when she warms to her subject and says,

“. . . . . . . and perhaps, in another three years, we may be forgetting—almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: “If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

Going back to Thomas Lister’s comments on Jane Austen, she scarcely does more than make them act and talk and we know them directly” I think we have from this wonderful effusion on the subject of memory we get a pretty clear idea of the pace, power and wide range of Fanny’s mental development.


Thomson – MP – Rushworth

At the novel’s beginnings we are given a view of Mr Rushworth and it provides a good illustration of Jane Austen’s sharp eye for comedy. Mr Rushworth has the floor, and is on ‘home ground’ and in full flow talking about Sotherton and the improvements he might make, when Lady Bertram makes a remark taking him into new and uncharted waters.  He begins to reply to her suggestion that he should create a pretty shrubbery as an immediate response to her idea but gradually loses way as he tries to work in all of the following:

  • His agreement with Lady Bertram’s idea
  • His desire to pay her a compliment
  • Although submitting to her taste he wants to make clear that he had always thought it was a good idea himself
  • Mentioning that whilst a shrubbery aids the comfort of women generally
  • There is one particular woman he is most anxious to please

And we get the wonderful picture of a weak intellect seizing up under the weight and strain of its own thoughts as Mr Rushworth grinds to a halt. Jane Austen does not waste time in giving a detailed description of his talk running out of steam she merely remarks, “that he grew puzzled” and she has Edmund putting an end to the speech with a proposal for more wine. This establishes Mr Rushworth’s limitations from the start, and at his expense.

Concluding Remarks

For a great work like Mansfield Park any mere article would be too short, and by only dipping into aspects and parts of the novel many things are left unsaid. I have touched on the importance of Stoneleigh Abbey to this novel and to the wider aspects of Jane Austen’s work, the role possibly played by Cottesbrook Hall, and the influence of Shakespeare on this novel especially. I hope that you have enjoyed looking afresh at Mrs Norris, and I am sorry my talk did not have time for more.

Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:
1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
3. Austen Family letters.
4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher Jane Austen in the Midlands
5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
7. Shakespeare’s Plays
8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
9. Jane Austen’s novels


Thank you Chris for sharing your many thoughts on Mansfield Park with ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’! Readers: please leave any question or comment for Chris below – he will get back to you right away.

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich, images as noted]

Shakespeare’s Influence on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ Guest Post By Chris Sandrawich, Part II

Gentle Readers: Chris Sandrawich posts here today in Part II of his writings on Mansfield Park, here focusing on Shakespeare’s influence on Austen.

Shakespeare’s Influence on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

by Chris Sandrawich

All of Jane Austen’s novels have direct quotations or echoes from Shakespeare’s plays but Jane Austen goes into overdrive with Mansfield Park.

The Wilderness and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: When they all go to Sotherton and stroll towards the Ha Ha, the barred gate and the wilderness beyond we see that various pairings are made, official or unofficial, and broken up, and reformed again, with Fanny as silent observer but only of part, and couples returning “from the woods” claim to have ‘been lost’ or have ‘forgotten time’ so there is more than an echo of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in amongst it all.


[Source: Mollands]

There has been a mountain of interest displayed down the years in the prank played by Maria in wrong-footing the poor hapless Mr Rushworth who is sent away for a key whilst she takes an opportunity to squeeze through the bars and into the freedom of the wilderness beyond. Fanny’s pleas for patience and caution are ignored. On Mr Rushworth’s side of the fence we have his house and his mother, and all the feelings of restraint from manners, rules, etiquette and standards of behaviour to keep to. Gaining access to comparative freedom by an escape seemingly on an irresistible impulse takes Maria past the formidable barriers of the iron gates the bars of the fence and the Ha Ha, and even at the risk of tearing her clothes she effectively abandons herself to the freedom of being alone with Henry. Most commentators who wish for more “hanky panky” than is evident make a lot of this allusion to the renting of clothing. However, unlike the “great slit in my worked muslin gown” that Lydia in Pride and Prejudice wants Sally to mend – which is an actual slit and therefore an allusion to an event already taken place – Maria actually gets through unscathed. Acting with Mr Crawford’s encouragement Maria puts herself “out-of-bounds” and Henry follows immediately. It is significant that their first action is not to do what they claimed was their motivation and which would keep them in sight. They do not go up to the copse of trees so as to turn and survey the house from there. No, they disappear out of sight immediately. Every reader is free to think for themselves what Edmund and Mary on one side and Henry and Maria on the other actually get up to, all unobserved in the woods and wilderness and let us just leave it that time, opportunity and inclinations were all there for use and mischief. Certainly Shakespeare mentions the opportunities that present themselves with Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia, who are all discovered asleep together in the woods, and on waking have difficulty still in separating dream from reality. However, in Mansfield Park there is no after affect visible on person, clothing or behaviour and no future considerations are mentioned as affecting their various thoughts and feelings in later chapters. So we may conclude that very little happened, or at least I do! Others may disagree – and suggest quite a lot went on.

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope - wikipedia

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope – wikipedia

Plot Structure and King Lear: There are echoes of Alls Well That Ends Well in Mansfield Park but most critics would plump for King Lear as having most resonance. In both plot structures we have an authoritarian father who does not know his children, or anything else as he should, and who loses his authority by overestimating his eldest daughters and undervaluing the youngest (although Fanny is not Sir Thomas Bertram’s natural daughter she is to all intents and purposes being treated as such, accept by Mrs Norris). In King Lear, Regan and Goneril are rivals for the treacherous Edmund just as Julia and Maria are rivals for Henry Crawford. Cordelia rejects Lear’s auctioning of her affections and gets a “Nothing comes from nothing” response and Fanny rejects Sir Thomas’s encouragement to accept Henry Crawford. Both Cordelia and Fanny, the youngest daughters, are misunderstood, or not listened to properly and are certainly not trusted. They are accordingly banished in punishment. Both are accused of ingratitude.

Edmund at one stage advises Fanny to let Henry, “succeed at last” and she bursts out with, ”Oh! Never, never, never he will never succeed with me.” This is only one less never than from King Lear, “Thou’lt come no more. Never, never, never, never, never!” as the King addresses his dead daughter.

However, Fanny is recognised as the daughter he always wanted by Sir Thomas, who in the end has revised many opinions based on experience. The fates do not spare Cordelia or King Lear and they ‘enjoy’ grim ends.

General links to Shakespeare:

We have the Bertram brothers talking of plays they read as boys and list: Henry VIII, Julius Caesar and Hamlet when Tom tries to use them in claiming his Father’s encouragement to theatricals! Sir Thomas had instead thought of them more as an aid for diction and good material for young men to work with as useful preparation for speaking in public. Jane Austen shows her belief in the power of Shakespeare’s work by the conversation between Henry Crawford and Edmund in Mansfield Park. As Henry Crawford and Edmund seem to hardly agree on anything we can interpret their agreement on Shakespeare as being Jane Austen’s authorial voice showing through (in a similar fashion to the defence of the Novel in Northanger Abbey) as we hear Edmund say:

“That play must be a favourite with you”, said he; “You read it as if you knew it well.” “It will be a favourite I believe from this hour,” replied Crawford; – “but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before, since I was fifteen. – I once saw Henry VIII acted. – Or I have heard it from someone who did – I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an English-man’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct. – No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.”

“No doubt, one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree.” said Edmund, “from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody, they are in half the books we open and we all talk Shakespeare use his similes and describe with his descriptions . . . . .”

And so Jane Austen is telling us that Shakespeare’s influence is all-pervading and that his plays are well-known to every educated person, whilst subtly giving doubtful sincerity to Crawford’s lines.

Critics in Jane Austen’s time made reference to Shakespeare when commenting on her novels. As Paula Byrne mentions, a critic in the Quarterly Review in 1821, just four years after Austen’s death, compared Jane Austen’s art to Shakespeare’s. “Saying as little as possible in her own person and giving a dramatic air to the narrative by introducing frequent conversation,” she created in her fictional world “with regard to character hardly exceeded even by Shakespeare himself.”

Yet another 19th Century writer, Thomas Lister, ascribed her genius to revelation of character through dramatic dialogue, “She possessed the rare and difficult art of making readers intimately acquainted with the character of all whom she describes . . . . . . she scarcely does more than make them act and talk and we know them directly.”

Henry Crawford’s Choices of Parts: When they get into the theatricals it is interesting just which characters Henry Crawford picks out as parts he could readily play bearing in mind he has a free choice. He starts with Richard III, then he suggests Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and finally the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. Is this Jane Austen suggesting he will act as either the villain or the fool in this novel?

Before they settle upon Lovers’ Vows they look at and reject: Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.

Henry VIII: Later we have Henry Crawford thrilling Fanny, and even stirring Lady Bertram (which I think all will agree takes some doing), with his reading of Henry VIII. Once again, is this a subtle hint from Jane Austen? Henry VIII, in this play wavers between the virtuous but passive Queen Katherine and the vivacious, lively Anne Boleyn; and so should we expect Henry Crawford to act the same way when comparing Fanny with Maria? We know which one the King ends up with, and that it doesn’t last.

Merchant of Venice: Fanny is standing by a window admiring nature and saying its delights are superior to music and art and draws Edmund away from the ‘Glee’ by saying as she looks at the stars, “In such a night as this” which matches a line from The Merchant of Venice and a conversation between Lorenzo and Jessica in Act 5 Scene 1 as they stand in the avenue before Portia’s house. The full passage is:


Illustrator: H.C. Selous. London: Cassell, 1830. [Internet Shakespeare]


The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.


In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.


In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.


In such a night Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs
That did renew old Aeson.


In such a night
Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew
And with an unthrift love did run from Venice
As far as Belmont.


In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.


In such a night
Did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew,
Slander her love, and he forgave it her.


I would out-night you, did no body come;
But, hark, I hear the footing of a man.   [Enter STEPHANO]        

Now this allusion is very striking. Not only during this passage is the belling of “in such a night” very suggestive as we hear it eight times going through a listing of famous lovers. In almost all the pairings there is eventual betrayal by one or other and so they are all “star-crossed” lovers.

  • We have Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida, and Cressida albeit with some heavy persuasion agreeing to betray Troilus and become Diomede’s lover.
  • We have Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe, who grow up as neighbours and lovers even though their families are at war. This is a neat template for Romeo and Juliet. In each story the hero kills himself thinking his lover is dead and she finding him dead then kills herself too.
  • We have Virgil’s Dido and Aeneas: Henry Purcell created an opera from Virgil’s story of Dido Queen of Carthage who loved Aeneas a Trojan hero. Aeneas abandons Dido and sails away.
  • We have from Greek Mythology Medea and Jason, and Jason leaves Medea for the King of Corinth’s daughter. Later they get back together and Medea cuts Aeson’s (Jason’s father) throat and puts his corpse in a pot with herbs and with a few incantations overnight he re-emerges as a young man. But as Medea was the grand-daughter of the Sun God Helios then all things are possible, I suppose.

So, Jane Austen is alluding to the recurring theme of lovers and looming tragedy, and we therefore wonder what is in store for Shakespeare’s Lorenzo and Jessica as well as the love triangle of Edmund, Fanny and Mary Crawford.


“It is a great while since we have had any star-gazing.” The glee began. “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny,”
said [Edmund], turning his back on the window.

[Joan Hassall, Mansfield Park –]

So is it meant to be significant that rather than stay and enjoy the quiet contemplative joys with Fanny, Edmund chooses to withdraw back into the room drawn by the music the singing group and Mary Crawford’s more vivacious charms, leaving Fanny isolated at the window?

Going by the Shakespeare allusion is it this first pairing that will fail? Jane Austen leaves it to us to judge; that is if we’ve noticed!

Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:

1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
3. Austen Family letters.
4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher “Jane Austen in the Midlands”
5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
7. Shakespeare’s Plays
8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
9. Jane Austen’s novels


Any comments or questions for Chris? – please reply below, and stay tuned for Part III, where Chris will share his thoughts on Mrs. Norris!

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich [originally published in JASM Transactions 25 (2014)], images as noted.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Stoneleigh Abbey ~ Guest Post by Chris Sandrawich, Part I

Gentle Readers: Today I welcome Chris Sandrawich, from the Midlands Branch of the Jane Austen Society. This is based on a talk he gave at Stoneleigh Abbey in 2014, and the essay has just recently been published in the Midlands annual publication Transactions. There are really three separate topics to his talk so I will be posting it in three parts over the next few days. And it is all about Mansfield Park! If you have any comments or questions for Chris, please do leave a reply and he will get back to you.


Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Stoneleigh Abbey

by Chris Sandrawich

Outline: This article is based around a short presentation I gave at Stoneleigh Abbey in 2014. Mansfield Park is by common consent amongst the world’s leading literary academics one of the greatest novels ever written. Just like Emma and Persuasion, Mansfield Park was written in Jane Austen’s maturity around 1813 and published 200 years ago when Jane was 38 years old. She published it on commission rather than for a fee and it sold out in six months raising £330. So, she made rather more with this book than the others. Possibly £300,000 in today’s values, but I will say more about the comparative values of money later.

As a callow youth I found Fanny Price to be an insipid, weak character who compared badly in my youthful eyes with the feisty and far sexier Elizabeth Bennet, (who is everything to me that Darcy is to many women) and so Mansfield Park was not my favourite novel. However, with the years I have discovered that Fanny Price is every bit as immovably tough as Lady Catherine de Bourgh found Lizzy Bennet to be. Both leading ladies display fierce determination and firm convictions when they think they are right. Also, it is important to note that Mary Crawford is every bit as sexy and attractive as Elizabeth Bennet and so Jane Austen by setting Mary and Fanny in undeclared competition for Edmund is showing that the real heroine of the novel to win true love does not have to be the most glamorous person in it. Fanny Price has grown on me, and liking Fanny is the key to liking the novel which is still ranked very low in most Janeites’ favourites’ list.

George_Crabbe by Pickersgill - wikipedia

George Crabbe by Pickersgill – wikipedia

“Fanny Price” is also the name given to the heroine in the Parish Register by George Crabbe (above) published in 1807. Fanny in Crabbe’s poem resists the sexual advances of an amorous knight by remaining “meekly firm”, and it seems too similar in its basic plot for Jane Austen’s choice of name for her heroine not to have been deliberate.

I could write a book on the ideas and topics emerging from this great work and so regretfully many interesting aspects, to be found in the novel are omitted from this paper. With regret this includes Lovers’ Vows, but I will discuss in detail:

  • Links with both Stoneleigh Abbey and Cottesbrook Hall in Northamptonshire
  • Jane Austen’s fascination with money and inheritance in her novels, and Stoneleigh Abbey’s importance in this
  • Consider the influence of Shakespeare directly and indirectly on the novel’s plot and structure
  • Look at one of Mansfield Park’s characters and touch on a few of the others

General Remarks:

Here are a few preliminary points about Mansfield Park to get a context for this great work:

  • The novel covers the greatest period in years of any of Jane Austen’s six novels as it begins when Fanny is only nine years old and we see her develop and eventually marry her cousin Edmund in her late teens or early twenties. As Jane Austen says, “I purposely abstain from dates . . . . . . .” and so she allows us to have our own ideas on how long it takes exactly for Edmund to get over the scintillating, beautiful, and all-too-charming Mary Crawford.
  • By naming the novel Mansfield Park and by giving the owner of it an interest in the slave trade and by making the
    Lord Mansfield - wikipedia

    Lord Mansfield – wikipedia

    building modern and therefore likely to have been built from the profits of slavery (about one pound in every three of the UK economy of that period was reckoned to arise from the slave trade) is Jane Austen drawing a reference to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield? Lord Mansfield made a significant contribution to the abolition of the slave trade by his famous ruling on the runaway slave James Somerset; that no man living on English soil could be a slave. Paula Byrne has written a biography on Mansfield’s adopted daughter Dido Elizabeth Belle adapted for a film, and has an article on Mansfield Park in a July 2014’s Daily Telegraph. Certainly there are lots of parallels to be drawn in the raising of Dido Belle and Fanny Price, both taken from their families, adopted and raised in a mansion but with doubtful status: are they servant or lady?

 Dido Belle (left) and Elizabeth Murray

Dido Elizabeth Belle and

  • The influences of the country and cities on forming character and shaping behaviour are well drawn. The fateful tainting of the Crawfords’ morals arising from living with the Admiral in Hill Street and by adopting values of their rich set of friends in London mean that in the end they lose their chances of marrying Edmund and Fanny.
  • Especially in “Fanny’s nest of comforts” but in many other ways the transfer of the possession of things highlight how material objects can be viewed and valued very differently by different people.
  • Eliza de Feuillide -wikipedia

    Eliza de Feuillide -wikipedia

    Despite Sir Thomas and Fanny being against the acting of plays at home, these opinions are not meant to reflect Jane Austen’s views of the theatre. Whilst Jane Austen was negotiating the publication of this novel and staying with her brother Henry in London her letters show she was constantly at the theatre. She loved seeing all sorts of live performance and plays and she followed the star performers’ lives with a keen interest. Also the whole Austen family engaged in the production of stage plays at home in their barn at Steventon, with a juvenile Jane Austen turning the weighty novel Sir Charles Grandison into a crisp five act play. In 1787 (Jane was only 11 years old) the Austens were joined by their exotic cousin Eliza de Feuillide, a French Countess, and both James and Henry were rivals for Eliza’s affections and Henry married her some ten years later. It seems too good an association of ideas not to conjecture that the flirtations Jane must have witnessed at close hand reappear in Henry Crawford’s behaviour with both Julia and Maria in Mansfield Park and Lovers Vows. Two centuries ago, most writers wrote plays and everyone was familiar with the theatre, and the revealing of character through dialogue – which is so brilliantly displayed in Jane Austen’s novels – owes much to her understanding of how plays are constructed as well as performed.


Links with Stoneleigh Abbey, Cottesbrook Hall (Northamptonshire) and Inheritance

Stoneleigh Abbey - wikipedia

Stoneleigh Abbey – wikipedia

Stoneleigh Abbey, the home of the Leigh Family, has direct links to two of Jane Austen’s novels and indirect links to them all. The physical appearance of the Abbey has reverberating echoes for Northanger Abbey. Stoneleigh Abbey was maintained and added to over time by the wealth of the Leigh family and has an odd mix of styles: it has an Elizabethan East Wing, an 18 th Century West Wing and a 14th Century Gate House. Its rooms are altogether lighter and more colourful than one might expect – and one can easily imagine Catherine Morland having to swallow her disappointment at the shortage of Gothic Horrors. Just how far we can go to claiming that Stoneleigh Abbey as the model for Northanger Abbey is aided by the existence of a now concealed staircase leading from the stable yard that might have been the model for Henry Tilney to ascend and surprise Catherine when she was seeking Mrs Tilney’s bedroom. What is more credible, however, is the chapel at Stoneleigh Abbey being the model for the chapel at Sotherton Court in Mansfield Park. From the vantage point of the chapel balcony one sees, “the profusion of mahogany and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family balcony above” and as Fanny Price noted, “no aisles, no inscription, no banners.”

Stoneleigh Abbey Chapel - austenonly

Stoneleigh Abbey Chapel – austenonly

Mr Rushworth is keen to improve his home using Humphrey Repton, the only developer cited by name in any of the novels. Repton was employed at Stoneleigh Abbey in 1808, and he foreshadowed nineteenth century developments, creating a perfect cricket pitch called ‘home lawn’ in front of the west wing and a bowling green lawn between the gatehouse and the house. Repton worked on over 60 great and small houses in England. It is not right to think Jane Austen was not interested in sports. The earliest mention of “Baseball” appears in Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen came to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 with her sister and Mother (who was related to the Leigh family as was the Reverend Edward Cooper, at Hamstall Ridware, who gained two livings from the Leigh family. Edward and Jane were cousins because their mothers were sisters and granddaughters of Theophilus Leigh of Adlestrop.) The Austens had been staying with The Reverend Thomas Leigh (Mrs Austen’s cousin) in Adlestrop and upon hearing of the death of their relative The Honorable Mary Leigh travelled for a family gathering at Stoneleigh Abbey. Later they travelled further north to stay with the Coopers. Jane Austen stayed for some time in Stoneleigh Abbey, admired the rooms and views from their windows and strolled through the grounds.

We can get an understanding of just what the Austen’s thought of and did at Stoneleigh Abbey by looking at two letters from Mrs Austen. The first is a description of the house:

There are 45 windows in front (which is quite strait with a flat roof) 15 in a row. You go up a considerable flight of stairs (some offices are under the house) into a large hall: on the right hand the dining parlour, within [ie beyond] that the breakfast room, where we generally sit, and reason good ‘tis the only room (except the chapel) that looks towards the river. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing room, within that a smaller. These rooms are rather gloomy brown wainscoat and dark crimson furniture; so we never use them but to walk thro’ them to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine; the old gallery opens into it; behind the hall and parlours is a passage all across the house containing three staircases and two small back parlours, There are 25 bed chambers in the new part of the house & a great many (some say good ones) in the old. There is another gallery fitted with modern prints on buff paper & a large billiard-room.

The second a description of what she had for breakfast: Chocolate, Coffee and Tea, Plumb Cake, Pound Cake, Hot Rolls, Cold Rolls, Bread and Butter and Dry Toast.”

Now if like me you scratch your head at the mention of a Pound Cake here is a description of how to bake one by the Austen’s friend, Martha Lloyd:

Take a lb of fine flour well dried. Then take a lb of butter and work it well with your hands till it is soft. Then work into it half a lb of sugar. Then take twelve eggs, putting away half the whites, then work them also into your butter and sugar. Then strew your flour into your butter, sugar and eggs, by little and little, till all be in, then strew in 2 oz of caraway seeds. Butter your pan and bake it in a quick oven, – an hour and a half will bake it.

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.” [Jane at Godmersham to Cassandra in Southampton, 15th June 1808.] From this we see an interest in “cakes” shared by many in the Austen family.

Now Jane would have been familiar with Stoneleigh Abbey, by name, from a very young age as well as the complicated Leigh family and its connections. Preferment and the importance of kinship would have been known to Jane Austen as both her elder brothers James and Henry received educations at St John’s College Oxford as they were “Founder’s Kin.” Jane would have been introduced over time to the importance of inheritance on the lives of families. Her novels are full of it. Let’s take the first two for example. In Pride and Prejudice the Bennet estate is entailed away from the daughters to “heirs male”, favouring Mr Collins, to Mrs Bennet’s eternal bafflement. As a reaction to this entail, her constant drive is to see all the Bennet ladies married well. Sense and Sensibility begins with a death and the disinheritance from their home of a man’s second wife and three daughters in favour of the eldest son from his first marriage. In both examples the poor treatment of females, as well to a lesser extent of second sons, in this inheritance merry-go-around would seem quite deliberate, to highlight this issue.

The importance of money and livings on family life brought through kinship was a subject familiar to Jane Austen and even though her Mother’s and therefore her own chances of inheriting anything significant amongst the numerous Leighs was slight; the family living and invitations to visit relatives at great houses and to mix with the wealthy and connected in society gave Jane Austen a colourful and varied lifestyle. The view that she lived obscurely in a village and saw nobody but her immediate family is well wide of the mark. Jane Austen, largely through the Leigh family connection, but also through her brother Edward who inherited through adoption the Knight family income and had more money than “Darcy”, travelled and stayed away a great deal and met and mixed with many much wealthier than she was. Jane observed them all and later when writing her novels drew upon her wide experience and never lost sight of the importance of money.


Austen Topaz crosses

An example of Jane using her own experiences in her novels is illustrated by having William Price with brotherly love buying an Amber Cross for Fanny. Jane’s own brother, Charles in the Royal Navy as part of his £50 prize money from the taking of a privateer bought Cassandra and Jane topaz crosses as well as suitable chains for them. Jane showed she was much taken with this handsome gesture of affection by working it into Mansfield Park. However, Jane then goes further by using William’s gift of an amber cross for Fanny as a plot device. William could not afford the chain as well only being a midshipman. We witness the machinations of Mary and Henry in trying to get Fanny to wear Henry’s chain for her new cross.

A Short Aside on Money:

Money has its importance in the novels but how are we to understand the value represented in Jane Austen’s day with our experience? Fifty pounds does not seem to be a great deal as a share for taking a “prize”. I offer you three means of making a comparison each as solid or unreliable as any other. Economists rule this area of expertise and we may recall what George Bernard Shaw said about them, “If all the economists in the world were laid end to end they still would not reach a conclusion.”

By looking at bundles of commodities over short time periods for 200 years we end up with a movement in the RPI of around 60 x and so the purchasing power in today’s terms of Charles’ £50 is £3,000. Alternatively, if we look at the movement in earnings over the last two centuries we can increase this value over 800 x and so Charles’ £50 becomes £40,000. As a piece of whimsy I offer you a “Beef Index” as well. Picking just one commodity is fraught with danger, of course. Louis Simond quotes in his excellent journal of a tour of the British Isles in 1810/11 that beef cost 9d (old money) a pound. Well there is beefsteak and beefsteak and quite a range of prices and qualities in today’s supermarkets. But uprating to the mid-values gives us 250 x and so Charles’ £50 is worth £12,500 in beef purchasing power. Of course different commodities give different results. Tea in Jane Austen’s time was kept under lock and key and at £1 a pound it was almost 30 times more expensive than beef and if it had maintained that price a pound of tea would cost well over £300 today. Supermarkets might like those prices but we don’t. If you are scratching your heads at these comparisons I refer you to George Bernard Shaw’s remark on economists and conclusions.

Cottesbrooke Hall

Almost all of what I have to say on Cottesbrooke Hall is gleaned from Julie Wakefield’s excellent AustenOnly website. Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire has its fans amongst the great and the good as the model for Mansfield Park. About the same time Jane Austen was composing Mansfield Park she wrote to her sister Cassandra and to her close friend Martha Lloyd asking for information about the landscape of Northamptonshire, even down to hedgerows. It is extremely unlikely that Jane Austen went into Northamptonshire but “she knew a man that did”, her brother Henry who was familiar with the house, the owners and the countryside round about. Henry knew the Sandford and Tilson families who were in turn related to the Langhams who owned the Hall. “Taking all this information into account, Sir Frank MacKinnon, the British High Court judge and Austen scholar, suggested that Cottesbrooke was indeed the inspiration for Mansfield.  Dr  R. W. Chapman, the Austen scholar supreme of the early 20 th-century, published this information in  1931 in the Times Literary Supplement and seemed to agree with Sir Frank’s assessment.”

From these remarks you would say that the role of Cottesbrooke Hall as a model for Mansfield Park seems fairly certain, but Mansfield Park is described in the novel as:  A spacious modern-built house, but at the time Jane Austen was writing, Cottesbrooke Hall could not be described as modern, for it was originally built in 1702, some 111 years prior to the composition of Mansfield Park. So Mansfield Park is more likely to be an amalgam of fine gentlemen’s homes and country seats, Cottesbrooke Hall included, taken from life and descriptions readily available in tour guides and other sources.


Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:

  1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
  2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
  3. Austen Family letters.
  4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher “Jane Austen in the Midlands
  5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
  6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
  7. Shakespeare’s Plays
  8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
  9. Jane Austen’s novels


Thank you Chris for your insights into Mansfield Park – I will be posting your thoughts on Shakespeare’s influence on this novel, and your take on Mrs. Norris! Readers, please stay tuned over the next few days – you may comment below with your own thoughts or questions and Chris will get back to you.

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich; image sources as noted.

A Road by Any Other Name ~ Jane Austen Takes Over Worthing!

Breaking Jane Austen News!

From The Argus [Surrey, UK]:

Visitors to a new Worthing housing estate are in for a literary experience.

Three streets at the Barratt Homes development, The Fieldings  have been given names connected to celebrated author Jane Austen.

The Fieldings

The Fieldings

 [Image from the Barratt Homes website]

Austen found inspiration for many scenes and characters in her final and unfinished novel Sanditon when she visited the town in 1805.

Members of the Jane Austen Society contacted Worthing Borough Council calling for a street name in the town for the author.  [it is the JAS-Midlands Branch that spearheaded this effort under the leadership of Chris Sandrawich.]

Barratt Homes have now unveiled the street names as Austen Gate, Sanditon Way and Chawton Gate on the estate.  [There is also a block of flats called Mansfield Court.]

Society members and descendants of the author gathered in Worthing to mark the unveiling.

JAS-Midlands Branch

JAS-Midlands Branch

Barratt southern counties sales director Lynnette St Quintin said: “Where we build new homes and create new communities, it is important they are reflective of local history. The Worthing connection with Jane Austen is certainly one for everyone to be proud of.”


One wonders with “The Fieldings” so named if there might also be a Joseph Andrews Avenue or a Tom Jones Junction, or how about Bow Street Runners Boulevard … even Jane Austen would like that I think!


You might recall last year’s efforts regarding the Library Passage in Worthing: this street naming is a partial result of the JAS’s hopes to have some recognition of Jane Austen in the area.  There is more to come in a future post from Chris Sandrawich, so stay-tuned, and on your next trek to England be sure to put Worthing on your itinerary; better yet, buy a home here at Chawton Gate!

 c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont