Mansfield Park – Entry 2

So, since I left off at the end of Chapter Three, that’s where I’ll begin today.

First in the third chapter is a completely understandable admonition from Sir Thomas to Tom the younger regarding his lack of self-control and its resulting consequences for Edmund:

“‘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 for ten, twenty, thirty years, perhaps for life, of more than half the income which ought to be his'” (23).

A fatherly admonition, indeed, in which Sir Thomas “tried to impress his eldest son” with a guilty conscience over the fact that his life choices had cost his younger brother the living to which he was originally to succeed. Instead, then, the living was to be sold to Dr. Grant.

Tom, though, as I suspect most over-indulged children would, dismisses his father’s concerns:

“Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, 1st, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; 2dly, that his father had made the most tiresome piece of work of it; and 3dly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in all probability, die very soon” (24)

Why would Tom fail to internalize his father’s admonition? Why would he consider it only for a moment and then “cheerfully” disengage from his father’s admonition and his brother’s misfortune? The simple answer is that Sir Thomas has so far indulged Tom by discharging his debts, obligations, and responsibilities, that Tom doesn’t consider it necessary to feel guilt nor make any necessary changes to his behavior.

Here, therefore, we have the first subliminal criticism of Sir Thomas’ abilities as a father. Then, in addition to his verbal admonition to his son regarding his behavior, Thomas the elder took his son with him to Antigua “in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home” (31).

As he departs, though, Austen informs us that the Miss Bertrams found their father “no object of love to them…and his absence was unhappily most welcome.” Not only that, but now that one over-indulged child is out of the picture,

“[The Miss Bertrams] were relieved [by Sir Thomas’ absence] from all restraint; and without aiming at one gratification that would probably have been forbidden by Sir Thomas, they felt themselves immediately at their own disposal, and to have every indulgence within their reach” (31).

So, Sir Thomas focuses on the recovery of one child’s senses, but at the expense of the senses of two of his other children. I hardly believe that the “indulgences” of the Miss Bertrams would have been anything more than childish “pleasures,” but the message is still plain: Sir Thomas’ ability to properly guide his children through development is, despite his ability to think of Fanny and her situation with care, lacking a bit in the principal of balance – and also application.

In Chapter Four, Miss Maria Bertram finds herself confronted with the “duty” of matrimony in the form of Mr. Rushworth. Such a situation was, of course, perfectly normal. Maria was beautiful, and so Mr. Rushworth “fancied himself in love” with her, a pitfall witnessed in many other Austen works (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer just to name two). The match, so “unquestionably advantageous,” of course made Sir Thomas, even in Antigua, “truly happy,” because “It was a connection exactly of the right sort; in the same country, and the same interest; and his most hearty concurrence was conveyed as soon as possible.” I cannot criticize Sir Thomas for adhering to the commonplace practices of the time: find an acceptable match for your daughters so they don’t end up poor.

And so ends my second entry for Mansfield Park. I’ve some more reading to do now. I really should have done more reading over Spring Break, but honestly, my brain needed a bit of decompression time. I read some, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. Enjoy.

Mansfield Park, Entry 1

There are several things on which I wish to comment in this post, and will attempt to organize it in the most logical manner based on my observations. In this instance, I will list my observations chronologically rather than by topic.

First, I found it rather interesting that Sir Thomas Bertram was looking for ways to assist Frances Ward (Price) after her marrying “to disoblige her family.” Even though, as Austen states, Frances “could hardly have made a more untoward choice,” Sir Thomas, “from a general wish of doing right,” wanted to be able to help provide for his sister’s family. Based upon first impressions, then, Sir Thomas is not too terrible a person at all.

In comparison to the initial presentation of Thomas Bertram, then, Frances Ward’s husband, a man with “A large and still increasing family…disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants” hardly measures up (5-6).

Subsequently, when young Fanny finds herself at Mansfield Park, in the society of those with higher social standing and more refined behaviors, one can hardly fault Sir Thomas for the following caution he issues to Mrs. Norris:

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up; how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram (12).

Within the caution, though, surfaces compassion for a girl Sir Thomas has never before encountered. Again, as before, it appears that he is quite the gentleman when it comes to looking after the welfare of others and caring for relations as their needs arise.

On the very next page, we’re introduced to the idea that Sir Thomas has a “most untoward gravity of deportment,” which apparently cannot make up for his attempts to be “conciliating” toward Fanny, and so she immediately reckons on Lady Bertram as “the less aweful character of the two (13).” Such a discovery is, again, not a stain on Sir Thomas’ character. For a young girl raised in a household under the care of a disabled, drunken father, encountering a man entirely in possession of himself would seem intimidating. Again, on page 20, Austen informs us of the fact that, “though truly an anxious father, [Sir Thomas] was not outwardly affectionate, and the reserve of his manner repressed all the flow of [the children’s] spirits before him.” Is not such behavior what was expected of titled men in the Regency era? Aloofness and a bit of a sense of grandeur? Of course children would find ssuch deportment off-putting. That is, however, unless this is the beginning of the peek into Sir Thomas’ deficiencies.

This, at least, brings us to Chapter 3 – and I believe I’ll save that entry until tomorrow, so as not to appear long-winded.

All references in this post – and future posts, unless otherwise noted – are from the Penguin Classics version of Mansfield Park. Citation is as follows:

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. London: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.