Study Guide

Mansfield Park Family

By Jane Austen

Family

In everything but disposition, they were admirably taught. Sir Thomas did not know what was wanting, because, though a truly anxious father, he was not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressed al the flow of their spirits before him (2.31).

Ineffective parenting is a running theme throughout this book, and fathers and mothers frequently fail to understand or to control their children. As in marriage, raising children is something of a gamble. It's also notable that education is closely linked to family here. Families have a hugely influential power on character formation.

"I blush for you, Tom," said he, in his most dignified manner; "I blush for the expedient which I am driven on, and I trust I may pity your feelings as a brother on the occasion. You have robbed Edmund [...] perhaps for life, or more than half the income which ought to be his. [...]."

Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but, escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, first, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; secondly, that his father had made a most tiresome piece of work of it [...] (3.3-4).

Tom clearly thinks his dad is ridiculous – he's a classic rebellious son. In order to pay Tom's debts, his dad had to take some money out of Edmund's inheritance. It's kind of like Tom blew through his own trust fund and now has to borrow from Edmund's.

The Miss Bertrams were much to be pitied on the occasion; not for their sorrow, but for their want of it. Their father was no object of love to them; he had never seemed the friend of their pleasures, and his absence was unhappily most welcome (3.64).

Sir Thomas is also "to be pitied" here since most of his children don't respect him and don't like him. His absence signals the start of fun times, basically.

"Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece to have been those of the aunt; and it makes one more sensible of the disadvantages she had been under" (7.9).

Edmund demonstrates the power that families have here, when he notes that Mary probably shares her aunt's faults. Edmund seems to have an idea about inheritable faults – kids have the same shortcomings as their guardians. The book overall seems to suggest something different, though: the faults of parents and guardians cause children to react and to develop different troubles in response.

With no material fault of temper, or difference of opinion, to prevent their being very good friends while their interests were the same, the sisters, under such a trial as this, had not affection or principle enough to make them merciful or just, to give them honour or compassion (7.21).

Julia and Maria have a rather unfortunate sister relationship here, and their lack of deep affection is blamed on their lack of a decent behavioral education. The two are too selfish to have a really good relationship. What's interesting is that none of the book's sisters seem to have a good, or very deep, relationship. Even Fanny and Susan lack a deep bond or good friendship, even though they get along well enough.

He had known many disagreeable fathers before, and often been struck with the inconveniences they occasioned, but never, in the whole course of his life, had he seen one of the class so unintelligibly moral, so infamously tyrannical, as Sir Thomas (20.10).

This hilariously over-the-top assessment of Sir Thomas as some sort of mustache-twirling arch-villain gives us some good insight into Mr. Yates. Obsessed with acting and the theater, Mr. Yates seems to have an overactive imagination and his whole sense of reality revolves around fiction. Fiction is, of course, where crazy "tyrannical" fathers are usually found.

She had neither sympathy nor assistance from those who ought to have entered into her feelings and directed her taste; for Lady Bertram never thought of being useful to anybody, and Mrs. Norris [...] seemed intent only on lessening her niece's pleasure, both present and future, as much as possible (23.27).

This is one of the few places in the book where Fanny's lack of a good mother figure is directly addressed. Fanny may often seem a bit too confident in her own "purity" and her own judgment, but it stands to reason that, without any good female role models, she had to learn to judge for herself in some areas where Edmund wasn't really effective.

[Y]ou will feel that they were not least your friends who were educating and preparing your for that mediocrity of condition which seemed to be your lot. Though their caution may prove eventually unnecessary, it was kindly meant [...]" (32.12).

Once again, the link between family and education appears. Sir Thomas tries to justify Fanny's treatment by her guardians as a way of "educating and preparing" her for a mediocre existence.

Fanny, fatigued and fatigued again, was thankful to accept the invitation of going to bed; and before Betsey had finished her cry at being allowed to sit up only one hour extraordinary in honour of her sister, she was off, leaving all below in confusion and noise again, the boys begging for toasted cheese, her father calling out for his rum and water, and Rebecca never where she ought to be (38.45).

Fanny's noisy and chaotic family create a sharp contrast, in her mind and in that of the readers, between the Prices and the Bertrams. It also seems that her brothers run around as much as they do in order to burn off the calories from their "toasted cheese," which sounds both disgusting and intriguing, kind of like a McGriddle from McDonald's.

I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the United Kingdoms who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being sought by a clever, agreeable man, then have him driven away by the vulgarity of her nearest relations (41.11).

As much as Fanny wants Henry to go away, she has enough pride to not want her embarrassing family to drive him away. This witty commentary from the narrator clues us in, in a roundabout way, to a flaw in Fanny's often too-good character.

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