Mansfield Park: Novel summary: Chapter 1 – 4

Summary – Chapter One and Chapter Two

The first chapter begins with an explanation of how 30 years ago Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon had the luck to ‘captivate’ Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and was raised ‘to the rank of a baronet’s lady’. Of her sisters, Miss Ward married the Reverend Mr Norris and Miss Frances ‘fared yet worse’ and disobliged her family by marrying a Lieutenant of Marines. Mrs Norris and Frances exchanged ‘injurious’ letters and intercourse between ended for ‘a considerable period’. 


After 11 years, Mrs Price has an increasing family and little money as her husband is disabled from active service, but he is described as still liking company and good liquor. She writes to her sister Lady Bertram as she is preparing for her ninth child. Her eldest son is 10 years old and wonders if he would be of use to Sir Thomas ‘in the concerns of his West Indian property’. 


The letter is productive as Sir Thomas sends advice and his wife some money and baby linen. A year later Mrs Norris wishes for them to take on the eldest daughter of Mrs Price and Lady Bertram agrees and send for her. Sir Thomas is hesitant, but Mrs Norris defends the idea as the girl will have the chance of ‘settling well’ and costing no further expense.


Mrs Norris’s frugality is explained by the narrator and her benevolence is described as restricted to her direction of events as ‘her love of money’ is equal to ‘her love of directing’. She says it is out of the question for the child to stay at the parsonage as Mr Norris’s health will not allow for it. 


The Bertrams agree to have the girl, but Sir Thomas point out there will be ‘some difficulty’ in reminding his daughters of the distinction between them and their cousin ‘without depressing her spirits too far’. They will never be equals in ‘rank, fortune, rights and expectations’. Mrs Norris writes to Mrs Price and she agrees to send her daughter, although she is surprised they did not want one of her ‘many fine boys’.


In Chapter Two, the little girl is introduced as Fanny Price and is just 10 years old and ‘exceedingly timid and shy’. Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram meet her with kindness. Her female cousins, Maria and Julia, are not much older but are more confident. Fanny becomes tearful and is tired from the long journey, and goes to bed. 


Over the next days, she is still forlorn at having left her home (in Portsmouth) and finds ‘something to fear in every person and every place’. The servants, for example, sneer at her clothes. She creeps around the house ‘in constant terror’ and is afraid of breaking something. She ends every day by crying herself to sleep. She is there a week when her cousin Edmund finds her crying in the attic and tries to find out what is wrong. He persuades her to talk about her family as they walk in the park and discovers her brother William is the one she is closest to. He is a year older and had been her constant companion. Edmund encourages her to write a letter to him. Fanny begins to feel more comfortable from this point as she feels she has a friend in Edmund. 


She is able to read and write, but has not been taught anything else. Her two female cousins report to their mother on Fanny’s ignorance of geography, for instance, and their aunt says she may not be as ‘forward and quick at learning’ as they are. When one of the girls say Fanny does not want to learn music or drawing, Mrs Norris says it is ‘very stupid’ but it is desirable there is such a difference between them as Fanny does not have to be as accomplished as they are. The narrator explains how these girls are ‘entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility’ and ‘in everything but disposition, they were admirably taught’.


Both parents are not involved in the education of their daughters and if Lady Bertram had thought of it, she would have thought of them as being under the care of a governess with ‘proper masters’ and needed nothing more. Sir Thomas remembers Fanny’s siblings and helps Mrs Price with the ‘education and disposal of her sons’. Over the course of a number of years, Fanny only sees William and that is once when he spends a week at Mansfield Park before becoming a sailor. 


Edmund continues to be kind to Fanny even when he leaves Eton for Oxford. He encourages her to read and knows her to be clever ‘and to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense’. She loves him better than anybody except William, and her heart is divided in two.


Analysis – Chapter One and Chapter Two

These first two chapters establish the characterizations of many of the main characters. The wealth of the Bertrams is indicated as is the love of frugality and direction of Mrs Norris. Fanny is depicted as shy and fearful, and it is only Edmund who takes a guiding care of her and shows a human, brotherly interest in her. 


The female cousins, Maria and Julia, are seen to have had a more formal education than Fanny, and Edmund as one of the sons of the family (his older brother is Tom) has been sent to school and university. The class and gender distinctions of the society are clarified in this stratification of opportunity and privilege. Fanny, as the one who is lowest in class and is female in a patriarchal society, has received the least of such privileges and it is only through the kindness of Edmund that she is given any form of understanding.


Summary – Chapter Three and Chapter Four

Mr Norris dies when Fanny is about 15 years old and Mrs Norris moves first to Mansfield Park and then to a small house of Sir Thomas’s in the village. The ‘living’ (of the parson) was to be Edmund’s. However, the eldest son, Tom, has been so extravagant that the ‘youngest brother must help pay for the pleasures of the elder’. The position goes to Dr Grant. 


Sir Thomas now expects Fanny to live with Mrs Norris and Fanny is astonished when told of this. He has suffered some losses on his West India Estate as well as Tom’s extravagance and wants to be relieved of some expense. Fanny is sorrowful at the idea of living with this aunt, who she could not love. She tells Edmund and he says how she will be important to her. Fanny questions this and says she can never be important to anyone. He bolsters her confidence and reminds her she will always be free to come to the park whenever she wishes. However, Mrs Norris does not have any intention of taking her and has chosen the smallest of the genteel houses with this in mind. When Lady Bertram tells her about Fanny coming to live with her, she says her health and spirits put this out of the question, and does not have enough money either. Sir Thomas is told of this and accepts Fanny will stay.


Within the year, Sir Thomas finds it necessary to go to Antigua and takes Tom with him ‘in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home’. They leave England and there is the probability they will be gone for a year.


Lady Bertram does not like to have her husband leave, but is not afraid for his safety. The Miss Bertrams are to be pitied, ‘not for their sorrow, but for their want of it’. Their father’s absence is ‘unhappily most welcome’ and feel they will now have ‘every indulgence within their reach’. Fanny is also relieved, but feels guilty for not shedding a tear as her uncle is distant even when kind. Even when saying she may write to William, he says he fears William will see little change in her from when she was aged 10.


Chapter Four explains Sir Thomas and Tom are reported to have arrived safely and the household continues well without them. The Miss Bertrams are ‘fully established among the belles of the neighborhood’. Lady Bertram is too ‘indolent’ to go into public with them and Mrs Norris enjoys this role (of chaperone) instead. 


Fanny has no share in these festivities, but enjoys being ‘avowedly useful as her aunt’s [Lady Bertram’s] companion’. She thinks too lowly of her own position to want to be with her cousins, but likes to hear of the balls they have attended. 


In the spring, the pony that Fanny used to ride dies and it is not until Edmund returns after an absence that he remedies the situation despite the protests of Mrs Norris. He exchanges one of his own for one that suits her and this is done to avoid claims that he is spending too much of his father’s money. His father is expected back in September, but has to stay on and sends Tom back alone.


At the age of 21, Maria Bertram is beginning to think of matrimony as duty and a marriage to Mr Rushworth would mean enjoying a larger income than her father’s. Mrs Norris promotes the match and the couple enter into an engagement. It is some months before they receive Sir Thomas’s consent. He gives the only condition that they marry after his return. He writes in April that he expects to be back before the end of the summer.


In July, Mrs Grant’s half brother and half sister, Mr Henry and Miss Mary Crawford, pay a visit. They are her mother’s children by a second marriage and are young people of fortune. Mr Crawford has come to escort his sister and will take her back when she is weary of the place. Miss Crawford is there for three hours before her sister tells her of her wish to find her a suitable match in Tom Bertram. Mrs Grant also wants Henry to marry the youngest Miss Bertram and he bows and thanks her at this news. Miss Crawford says she doubts this happening as he is a flirt, and says ‘“if your Miss Bertrams do not like to have their hearts broken let them avoid Henry”’. He says he is cautious and not willing to risk his happiness in a hurry. Mary says everybody should marry ‘“as soon as they can do it to advantage”’.


Analysis – Chapter Three and Chapter Four

The theme of marriage and a ‘good match’ are introduced with the engagement of Maria and Mr Rushworth and with the arrival of the Crawfords. Marriage is regarded and accepted as a necessary duty for a woman of Maria’s age, and the success of the engagement to Mr Rushworth is measured by his eligibility in terms of wealth. 


The Crawfords offer another aspect to this notion of duty as they transgress the societal norm of behaving according to the unwritten rules. Mr Crawford is immediately drawn as a flirt and as unwilling to be pinned down, which may also be seen as benefit of his class and gender. Miss Crawford refers to ‘advantage’ and the implication is that wealth rather than love should be a deciding factor in marriage. In this point, she conforms to the same understanding as Maria, but she also shows an understanding of her brother’s flirtations as acceptable rather than immoral.