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The Search For A Home In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

2453 words - 10 pages

       Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is a novel obsessed with home and family.  It

begins a story of one family, three sisters, and quickly expands to a story of

three families, the Bertrams, the Prices, and the Norrises.  Family upon family

is added, each one growing, expanding, and moving until the novel is crowded

with characters and estates.  An obsession with movement creates an overall

feeling of displacement and confusion.  Fanny Price is moved from Portsmouth to

Mansfield and then back to Portsmouth and back to Mansfield. She occupies

several houses, Mansfield, Thornton Lacey, the parsonage, and almost Mrs.

Norris' house.  Julia and Maria Bertram, the Crawfords, the Grants, Susan Price,

even Mrs. Norris experience a move.  The only constant is Mansfield Park itself

with its immovable Lady Bertram and pug.  More positively, Mansfield becomes a

visual representation of family.  The novel's title, more an abstraction than a

reference to place, attempts to define "home," an idea in the novel not

contained by place. 

 

            In Mansfield Park, what defines home becomes the essential question

for Fanny Price.  The estate as a reflection of self is a prominent theme in the

novel.  Henry Crawford's suggestions for improving Thornton Lacey would raise it

"above a mere Parsonage House" by "giv[ing] it a higher character[.]. . . From

being the mere gentleman's residence, it becomes . . . the residence of a man of

education, taste, modern manners, good connections" (219-20).  Crawford's

improvements would give the house "such an air as to make its owner be set down

as the great land-holder of the parish" (220).  Edmund refuses to let his

identity be consumed, asserting that Henry's plan will not be "put in practice"

(219).  A "gentleman's residence" is "comfortable" and fitting (219).  For the

homeless Fanny, self is not defined.  With no home, she has no self.  She must,

therefore, grow into Mansfield Park before asserting selfhood.  As Fanny defines

and redefines "home," she is able to define herself and ultimately fit into

Mansfield Park and the family it represents.

 

            At her arrival, Mansfield Park is clearly no home to Fanny. 

Displaced from her home in Portsmouth, Fanny is almost a not-Fanny.  The initial

description of her is marked by negation.  There is "not . . . much in her first

appearance" though "nothing to disgust" (9).  She has "no glow of complexion,

nor any other striking beauty" (9).  She is "awkward" but "not vulgar" (9).  The

negatives (not, nothing, no, nor) reduce Fanny to nothingness.  The modifiers,

too, are diminutive.  Though Fanny is not much younger than Julia and Maria, she

is described as "just ten years old" and "small of her age" (9).  She is

"timid," "shy," "shrinking from notice"...

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