Mansfield Park is the third novel by Jane Austen, written at Chawton Cottage between February 1811 and 1813. It was published in May 1814 by Thomas Egerton, who published Jane Austen's two earlier novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. When the novel reached a second edition in 1816, its publication was taken over by John Murray, who also published its successor, Emma.
Mansfield Park is a pygmalion morality epic. The events of the story are put in motion by three sisters: Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price. Of the three sisters, Lady Bertram married extremely well, to a wealthy baronet; Mrs. Norris married a parson, who is given the living at the local parsonage by Sir Thomas Bertram, Lady Bertram's husband. This allows them to live comfortably, yet far below the standards set by the Bertram's lifestyle. The third sister married a naval officer who shortly afterwards was wounded in battle and pensioned as a Lieutenant at half pay.
They then proceeded to have nine children, which they could scarcely afford. Mrs. Norris, always wishing to appear to do right, proposes that Lady Bertram take one of the children to live with her at Mansfield Park. They choose Fanny Price, the eldest daughter, who is the protagonist of the novel. Thus, at age 10, Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives. Fanny's life at Mansfield Park is not as she might wish. Her Aunt Norris, an energetic woman, who strongly advocated the plan of bringing Fanny when it was first proposed, becomes less interested as time goes on and does little to assist with Fanny's care, except to frequently point out what a bother Fanny is, and how much money she is costing the family.
She refuses to allow a fire to be set in Fanny's room, though Fanny is in poor health. At Mansfield Park, Fanny grows up with her four older cousins, Tom (17), Edmund (16), Maria (13), and Julia (12), but is always treated like an unwanted poor relation. Only Edmund shows her real kindness. He is also the most good-natured of the siblings: Maria and Julia are vain and spoiled, while Tom is an irresponsible gambler.
Over time, Fanny's gratitude for Edmund's thoughtfulness secretly grows into romantic love. Lady Bertram is of a lazy and indolent temperament and rarely does anything to assist the raising or monitoring of the children, while all of the children are in awe of Sir Thomas. Mrs. Norris showers attention and affection on her Bertram nieces, particularly Maria, enjoying the prestige and wealth associated with them, but is verbally abusive and mean-spirited toward Fanny, who she sees as undeserving and inferior to the others. She tries to exclude Fanny from outings and other pleasures.
A few years after Fanny arrives, Aunt Norris is widowed, moves into a cottage of her own, and becomes a constant presence at Mansfield Park. Meanwhile, Thomas Bertram has been engaging in dissolute activities, and incurs a lot of debt due to irresponsible spending and gambling. Thus, though the living of the parsonage is freed up by their Uncle Norris's death, and it was to be reserved for Edmund after his Ordination to provide him with an independent income, it needs to be sold to another in order to gain the money to help Sir Thomas pay Tom's debts.
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