Category Archives: Mansfield Park

Symbolism & Foreshadowing in Mansfield Park

I am ridiculously bad at recognizing foreshadowing in a piece of literature when I read it the first time.  I find myself so wrapped up in the story and the characters that I tend to ignore (or be completely oblivious to) hints of upcoming events.  I am forced to admit it… I am a page turner.  So with that said, it is not surprising that upon finishing and reflecting upon Mansfield Park, I find myself floored by just how much of the ending Jane Austen gave me as I read the book!  Granted, I did figure out that Fanny and Edmund were probably going to end up together (although, I will admit to doubting that fact several times throughout the novel); but I did not see Henry running away with Maria.  Maybe I just liked Henry a little more than I was supposed to.  However, as I went back and began to think about the events of the novel, I felt like I needed to be in one of those V8 commercials so that somebody could smack me in the forehead for being so clueless.

From PBS’s Complete Jane Austen Series

There are two HUGE examples of foreshadowing that tell the entire story in miniature.  The first is the visit to Sotherton and its garden when the characters divide into small groups.  Edmund and Mary wander off together, which isn’t really the story.  The Bertram girls, Henry Crawford, and Mr. Rushworth’s adventure is much more telling.  Maria allows Henry to help her into the “wilderness” behind a locked gate and a ha-ha (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what a ha-ha was either 😉 ) on the backside of the garden while her fiance, Mr. Rushworth is scrambling trying to find the key.  Maria is facing marriage (not a glorious prospect) and the locked gate may be symbolic of that upcoming constraint.    Henry Crawford’s role is that of aiding and abetting Maria Bertram’s escape from the garden (possibly a suggestion of the Garden of Eden with it rules and restraints of goodness).  This exact scenario is replayed at the end of the novel as Henry leads (or is led) into adultery when he finds himself coldly greeted by the woman he once shunned, something intolerable to his pride as a “ladies’ man.”

Another glaring example of foreshadowing is the young people attempt at amateur theatre.  The play chosen, Lovers’ Vows, gives them the opportunity to act out everything they wish they could do in real life.  Maria and Henry work very diligently on a scene that has the two “actors” employed in an embrace as mother and long-lost son, and Mary Crawford’s character has to confess her love for Edmund’s character and propose marriage (Lane). All of this “acting” prepares us for the ending of the novel when Mary begins pushing for a proposal from Edmund and Maria and Henry disappear into the notoriety of an adulterous affair (well, at least the play prepares readers who aren’t oblivious “page-turners” like I am).

The final example of symbolic foreshadowing and my personal favorite is the gifting of the gold chains to Fanny from Edmund and Henry. Fanny’s beloved brother, William, gave her an amber cross but was unable to provide her with a gold chain with which to wear it.  As the ball approaches, Mary offers Fanny her choice from a collections of chains on which to wear the cross. Fanny chooses one after much ado, only to find out that she has been tricked into accepting a gift from Henry. Later, she discovers that Henry’s necklace will not fit through the cross – the necklace is incapable of uniting itself to William’s gift, suggesting that Henry’s affections for Fanny will not join William’s fraternal love of his sister.  In the meantime,Edmund has left (with no ado whatsoever) the gift of a simple gold chain that unites perfectly with William’s cross.

The cross on the left was Jane’s, the other was Cassandra’s.

This is probably my favorite example of symbolism and foreshadowing because of it quiet obviousness.  Though it is understated, it is a glaring illustration of what is going on in the undercurrents of Fanny’s love life.  I also love that William’s gift of the amber cross mimics something from Austen’s own personal life.  Jane’s brother, Charles (a naval officer), used his first L30 prize money on topaz crosses for his sisters (Lane).  I just love that!

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Austen Quote of the Day!

“The indignities of stupidity, and the disappointments of selfish passion, can excite little pity.”  – Mansfield Park

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Manfield Park – What’s Love Got to Do with It??

s0… Austen isn’t really what I was expecting.  I read (or was supposed to read) one of her novels in high school, but either didn’t or can’t remember much about it.  When I started Mansfield Park, I knew that Austen is famous for her social commentary, but I wasn’t ready the dose of stark realism (in all characters except Fanny) and her wicked irony.  I find myself loving her more than I expected.  Even though I am a romantic at heart (believing in love ever after and such), I cannot help but to fall in love with this story of people who have no hope whatsoever of working themselves into happy endings.

I was expecting love to be a force that was beset by the forces of evil only to triumph over the obstacles placed in its path, but the more I read, the more I discover that love (in the conjugal sense) has no place in this Austen novel.  If we look at the characters and their personalities, attachments, and quirks, we see a group of people who are so blind or so blinding that they cannot hope to find happiness (except for Fanny, of course – eye roll).

Love begins its downward spiral almost immediately as the novel begins.  It is the tale of three sisters – one of whom marries for money and position, another marries for security under the first sister’s money and position, and the third sister marries for love and is tied irrevocable to a life of poverty and suffering.  Austen begins almost immediately discouraging this idea that people should marry for love as Mrs. Price is beleaguered and all but forgotten as the story moves forward.  However, just as I thought I had Austen pegged and knew that she was telling me that marrying for love was a bad deal, she surprises me with some marked differences in the relationships among the siblings of the Price family as opposed to the Bertram and Crawford siblings. When Austen is describing the William’s visit to Mansfield Park, she tells us all we need to know about her , “Fraternal love, sometimes almost everything, is at others worse than nothing.”

The Price siblings had little, if anything, in the way of worldly possessions, but the relationship that Fanny shares with her William is so powerful that I am jealous of such a thing.  They are able to share with each other their trials and challenges as well as their joys and accomplishments.  Fanny revels in William’s adventures at sea and William is able to commiserate (noisily so) with Fanny’s plight against their decidedly awful aunt Norris. The fraternal love between Fanny and William is undeniable and clearly the most powerful connection between characters thus far.  This devotion and love (only strengthened through their separation) stands in glaring contrast to the relationship between the Bertram girls.

The jealousy and bitterness of the Bertram girls appears over and over in the novel.  They have a falling out over the parts offered to them in Yates’ play, and then further divide themselves over the attentions of Henry Crawford.  Crawford’s attentions to the two girls really work to highlight the superficiality of their relationship.  Neither one really cares for him, no more so than they care about the play; however, both Henry and the play offer them the opportunity to see “who is top dog” and they eagerly take the challenge.  The idea of sacrificing their own happiness for the happiness of their sister never crosses either woman’s mind.  It is only when all competition is removed does their relationship realign itself to what sisters should be.  Julia is eager t to travel with Maria (who is now safely married) to see places and do things outside of Mansfield Park.

The Crawfords continue Austen’s theme of fraternal love; however, I can’t really put my finger on the relationship between Henry and Mary.  Their relationship isn’t of the adversarial nature  relationship that the Bertram girls’ is, nor does it reflect the devotion and love of the Price siblings’.  I think there is love between the two, but each of the Crawford siblings is too self-centered to find true happiness in the other sibling’s joy. For example, when Mary discovers that Henry intends to ask Fanny to be his wife, she isn’t overcome with sisterly joy for her brother’s finding love.  Instead, she immediately begins to calculate how this might help her situation.

Even though it seems that Austen is giving us Mrs. Price as an example of what can happen to someone who marries for the foolish notion of love, the children of that union (born in poverty) are far happier, more content, and worthier than their counterparts born to the luxury provided by Mrs. Bertram’s advantageous marriage or the Crawford’s wealth.  So, I must ask the question – what’s love got to do with it?

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Somebody Should Do Something…

…nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friend…”                                                                                                                                       – Mrs. Norris, Mansfield Park 

Mrs. Norris is the ultimate “this is what you should do” person – she’s full of suggestions and ideas for things that will certainly better everyone’s lives, yet she never manages to actually DO anything herself.  Her idea is that the family (and by family, she means everyone there except herself) should really work to help her sister and her children.  Even though bringing Fanny in is her idea, she refuses to do anything directly to help her.  Sir Thomas is continually surprised by Mrs. Norris’s refusal to be involved in any way with the niece whose adoption she had all but demanded.

It is undeniable that Mrs. Norris is a busy body, not necessarily malicious, but certainly capable of throwing a kink into the otherwise peaceable and satisfactory lives of those around her.  She could do my mother proud in her passive aggressive in her dealings with everyone.  For example, when Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram begin to move forward on their assumption that Fanny will go live with Mrs. Norris after the death of Rev. Norris, Mrs. Norris goes to extreme lengths to assure that her state of being “a poor desolate widow, deprived of the best of husbands” whose” health [is] gone in attending and nursing him” would mean sending Fanny to her would be an “unjust thing” for the “poor girl.”  There is no doubt in my mind that Fanny being forced to live with Mrs. Norris would have certainly been detrimental to Fanny, but not for the reasons that Mrs. Norris puts forward.  Mrs. Norris is  calculating , selfish, and envious.  She all but takes Mrs. Bertram’s place in the household while Sir Thomas is there, and then when he is forced to Antigua, Mrs. Norris moves right into his place as “ringmaster” of the household.  Now, don’t misunderstand me, she can’t do it all, so she depends on Edmund to take up the slack and do the icky things like “taking to the steward, writing to the attorney, [and] settling with the servants”, but make no mistake, Mrs. Norris sees herself as in charge of the family and their management.

There is no better example of this than her “indulging in very dreadful fears” that Sir Thomas and Tom had not arrived safely in Antigua and trying to pull Edmund in with her.  She assumed that she would be the first to hear the devastating news of Sir Thomas and Tom’s demise, so she got busy and “arranged the manner of breaking it all to the others.”  She was all ready to swoop in to comfort the family, who would obviously have been lost without her to guide them during through that devastating loss (for she would have fain denied herself the luxury of grief for their deaths as she would be busy saving the rest of the family from certain destruction). 😉   However, news of their safe arrival disappointed her plans and rendered her “affectionate preparatory speeches” dormant for a while.

Even though Sir Thomas’s safety had thwarted her role as protector and savior, she is so devoted to her role as Sir Thomas’s replacement that she sets about trying to procure her nieces (her Bertram nieces) their future husbands.  She seems completely devoted as a “caretaker” for her Bertram nieces, girls who don’t need her assistance as they are completely capable of “catching” a man on their own.  Ironically, Fanny, who really does need someone in her corner, is completely off of Mrs. Norris’s radar as worthy of her help.  Mrs. Norris seems desperate to be needed, but she refuses to be useful to the one person in the house for whom she could do the most good.

Her busybody, misguided meddling seems endless, so much so that I cannot avoid a very obvious parallel in modern literature.  While I haven’t read or heard any evidence of the truth of the following theory, I must admit that I unequivocally believe that the Mrs. Norris from Mansfield Park is the inspiration for none other than Mr. Filch’s Mrs. Norris in the Harry Potter series.  There are some striking similarities – both seem to always be in someone else’s business (lurking in the background no less), but neither one is actually capable to DOING anything themselves.  They rely on others to carry out their machinations and thwart the plans of their victims.  That’s so like a cat… only useful on its own terms and according to its own agendas.

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