Hitting the shelves in 1814, Mansfield Park was the third novel that Jane Austen published and the fourth that she completed. This novel was a pretty big departure from Austen's other works, and it was a bit of a shock coming after the much more light-hearted Pride and Prejudice, which was published just one year prior. The first of its relatively funny traits (for Austen) is that the heroine's main rival in Mansfield Park seems to a lot in common with the beloved heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett. Mansfield Park's heroine isn't nearly as charming and spunky. In addition, Mansfield Park explores some serious issues (like religion, slavery, politics) much more directly than Austen's previous works.
So what's going on with this novel? It seems downright un-Austen at times. This is, of course, significant. It's good to try to read Mansfield Park without preconceptions or assumptions, which is actually one of the major themes of the book. Nearly everyone in Mansfield Park spends the book making faulty assumptions about other people. No one really seems to understand one another, and few people even make an effort to try and understand those around them. Yet, typical to Austen's writing, the characters in Mansfield Park are often very real: they're difficult and contradictory and confusing and unclassifiable. Antagonists act more like heroes, heroines are sometimes unsympathetic, and villains suddenly transform into protagonists.
Interestingly, this novel can also be seen as a precursor to Austen's later novels like Emma and Persuasion, both of which contain highly complex characters and deal with contemporary events and serious social issues.
The timid protagonist of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, is a very passive, quiet character. She's totally unlike most of Jane Austen's other heroines, who are spunky, active, and outspoken. Fanny doesn't do a whole lot, though there is a good deal going on in her head. Why stick around for a whole book paying attention to her?
Well, for a lot of readers, Fanny is really relatable. Who hasn't had problems with feeling shy, unsure, or socially awkward at some point? Fanny battles with her shyness, her low self-esteem, her tendency towards depression, and her difficulties communicating with others.
Fanny's shyness often means that she is misunderstood by others, and misunderstandings and doubts are things that plague all the characters in the novel, shy or not. This is a novel that focuses on the ways in which difficult people try to deal with one another. Sounds a bit like life for all of us, doesn't it?
Mansfield Park: Online Text
This website contains the text of the book online and also has some basic information on the novel. This page also talks about some of the poems featured in the book, as well as the featured play Lovers' Vows.
Masterpiece Classic Mansfield Park
Extensive website for the 2007 Masterpiece Classic movie. The site has information on Jane Austen, the book's historical context, images from the movie, and resources and links for further study.
Website that has lots of information about Austen, her historical context, and all of her novels.
BBC Mansfield Park, 1983
A TV miniseries production of Mansfield Park, presented by the BBC. Originally aired in the United Kingdom.
Mansfield Park, 1999
Movie version starring Frances O'Connor. Fanny has a lot more spunk in this film version than in the novel.
Mansfield Park, 2007
Part of Masterpiece Classic's Jane Austen series that aired on PBS in 2007. This movie stars Billie Piper of Doctor Who fame as Fanny.
Mansfield Park YouTube Playlist
A playlist containing clips from the 1983 and the 1999 movie versions of Mansfield Park.
Trailer: 1999 Mansfield Park
One of the theatrical trailers previewing the 1999 movie version of Mansfield Park.
Lovers' Vows Scene
A clip from the 2007 production of Mansfield Park showing the characters discussing and performing Lovers' Vows.
Clip from the 2007 movie showing Fanny running around and acting a bit tom-boyish, contrary to how she is portrayed in the book.
"The Case of the Wimpy Heroine"
Fun Salon article on Fanny Price, written by Carol Shields.
PBS NewsHour Discussion of Jane Austen
Full transcript of a round-table discussion about Jane Austen that aired on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer in 1996.
Early Opinions of Mansfield Park
Check out some fun reviews of Mansfield Park that Austen collected from her family and friends. For example, Austen's mom "Thought Fanny insipid.—Enjoyed Mrs. Norris."
Image of one section of Portsmouth, where you can see a lot of the older buildings.
Austen Family Home in Chawton, England
Image of the house where Austen wrote Mansfield Park.