by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park Theme of Marriage
Sorry Frank Sinatra, but love and marriage don't go together like a horse and carriage in Mansfield Park. Love is sort of like cheese to marriage's hamburger – great to have, but not absolutely necessary. Marriage often teams up with things like money, pride, revenge, rebellion, or faulty assumptions. Love is more or less optional when making a union. And marriage is basically a crapshoot – everyone getting married takes a huge risk and gambles on it being happy or not. Even love cannot ensure that a marriage will be a good one. Ultimately, though love and marriage don't necessarily go together, marriage and social status do. For women in particular, marriage is an opportunity to rise up the social ladder. Lady Bertram, for example, becomes a wealthy woman through marriage, while her sister Mrs. Price ends up in poverty after marrying a sailor. As a result, when considering marriage, love often takes a backseat to more practical concerns.
Questions About Marriage
- What sort of marriage do you think Fanny and Edmund actually have?
- We see a lot of marriages in this book before it's over: the Prices, the Bertrams, the Rushworths, the Grants. Do any of these marriages seem particularly successful?
- Mary and Mrs. Grant have some interesting conversations about marriage. Mary seems to think that it's impossible to predict how a marriage will turn out, and they usually don't turn out as expected even if you try. Do you agree with Mary's assessment of marriage as a gamble here? Do the marriages that take place in the book back up Mary's assertion?
- For each of the young women in the novel, what are their primary concerns when looking for a marriage partner? For example, are they concerned with love, social status, wealth, character? What about the men in the novel? Are their concerns similar to or different from the women's?
Chew on This
In the end, marriage seems to be a reward, or at least a consolation prize, for the best-behaved characters, with the most moral folks getting the best marriages and the least moral not getting married at all.
Fanny is the only character in the whole book to marry just for love; every other character who marries, or who tries to marry, does so for both love and for other reasons.