The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

X. Jane Austen

§ 5. Mansfield Park

Jane Austen’s next novel, Mansfield Park, is less brilliant and sparkling than Pride and Prejudice, and, while entering no less subtly than Persuasion into the fine shades of the affections and feelings, it is the widest in scope of the six. Begun, probably, in the autumn of 1812, and finished in the summer of 1813, this was the first novel which Jane Austen had written without interruption, and remains the finest example of her power of sustaining the interest throughout a long and quiet narrative. The development of Fanny Price, from the shy little girl into the woman who married Edmund Bertram, is one of Jane Austen’s finest achievements in the exposition of character; and, in all fiction, there are few more masterly devices of artistic truth than the effect of Crawford’s advances upon Fanny herself and upon Fanny’s importance in the reader’s mind. In Mansfield Park, the study of Fanny Price is only one of several excellent studies of young women—the two Bertram girls and Miss Crawford being chief among the rest. Mansfield Park is the book in which Jane Austen most clearly shows the influence of Richardson, whose Sir Charles Grandison was one of her favourite novels; and her genius can scarcely be more happily appreciated than by a study of the manner in which she weaves into material of a Richardsonian fineness the brilliant threads of such witty portraiture of mean or foolish people as that of Lady Bertram, of Mrs. Norris, of Fanny’s own family, of Mr. Yates, Mr. Rushworth and others. Edmund Bertram, though presenting a great advance on the Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility, suffers, in his character acter of “hero,” from something of the same disability, a weakness which, to some extent, interferes with the reader’s interest in his fortune. And there appears to be some slight uncertainty in the drawing of Sir Thomas Bertram, whom we are scarcely prepared by the early part of the story to find a man of so much good sense and affection as he appears later. Against him, however, must be set the author’s notable success in the character of Henry Crawford—an example of male portraiture that has never been equalled by a woman writer. One subsidiary person in the novel may lend to it a personal interest. It has been suggested that Fanny’s brother, William Price, the young sailor, was drawn from Jane Austen’s recollections of what one of her own sailor brothers, Charles Austen, had been, twelve or fourteen years earlier.