Free Will to Pervert Goodness:

The Problem of Evil in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park


By Edea A. Baldwin


Submitted to Dr. Ralph C. Wood in partial fulfillment of the requirements for REL 4300

Baylor University

Waco, TX

November 28, 2001




            When readers and critics discuss novelist Jane Austen, or “Our Dear Jane,” as the most popular Austen website[1] refers to her, the problem of evil rarely enters the conversation.  Though written in an environment of political unrest, Austen’s six completed novels deal only with wealthy young men and women who attend balls, “take turns” in their drawing rooms, and come to know themselves.  Austen crafted her novels with precision and irony, filling them with heroes, villains, and fools who reveal themselves in clever dialogue narrated with merciless honesty.  Most of her novels are, as she wrote of Pride and Prejudice, “light & bright & sparkling.”[2]

            In the spring of 1814, however, a young lady might have picked up a new novel “by the author of Pride and Prejudice.”  She might have expected to meet another heroine like Elizabeth Bennet, who in two hundred years would be regarded as one of the most beloved characters in fiction.  She may have anticipated laughing at another ridiculous clergyman like Mr. Collins, frowning at another villain like Mr. Wickham, or daydreaming about another hero like Mr. Darcy.  Thinking of Pride and Prejudice, which had been published the year before and was still quite vivid in her mind, she might purchase this new book with the expectation of finding the same lively dialogue that moved as quickly and gracefully as a country dance. 

            This lady might arrive back at her town house and start reading.  She would find a witty first line—not an overtly funny one like that of Pride and Prejudice, but one that might make her smirk.  And like the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, this sentence was about money.  Reading further, however, the young lady would gradually begin to wonder if this book were indeed “by the author of Pride and Prejudice.”  Did the same ironic pen that produced Mr. Collins also bring to life Edmund Bertram, this stodgy clergyman who appeared to be the hero of the book?  How could the creator of Elizabeth Bennet also introduce this insipid girl—apparently the heroine—Fanny Price?  By the time she reached the end of the book, the lady might wish for the easy enjoyment of the previous novel, for this one left her baffled.  She couldn’t decide if the good characters were good, or if the bad characters were bad. 

            In place of Lydia Bennet, a silly flirt who inspired no sympathy, there was Mary Crawford.  The young lady would not have used the term “three-dimensional” when thinking of Mary’s character, but she might have wondered how a character could leave her so confused.  Mary was much like Elizabeth Bennet, yet the author had given her a bad end.  Henry Crawford was nothing like the cad George Wickham—yet he, too, was made a villain.  Henry might have troubled the young lady especially, as she had read the book with every expectation of his redemption, only to find a rather unbelievable twist in the last few chapters.  As for the “hero” and “heroine,” she might not have had much use for them.  They did not interest her; in fact, they rather annoyed her.  Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price were not characters that she would like to meet.


The Problem of Mansfield Park       

            Many readers since 1814 have closed Mansfield Park with a dissatisfied frown and a feeling that they have been cheated, though some of the first readers praised the morality of the book.  Austen collected opinions of Mansfield Park and recorded the following comments—the fact that she saved some of these remarks attests to her sense of humor:

            Mr. Cooke called it “the most sensible Novel he had ever read” . . . Mrs.     Augusta Bramstone—owned that she thought S&S. and P&P. downright        nonsense, but expected to like MP. better . . . Mr. Egerton the Publisher—     praised it for it’s (sic) Morality, & for being so equal a Composition . . .       Mrs. Lefroy—liked it, but thought it a mere Novel.[3]


However, some of Austen’s friends and relatives had different things to say.  Her brother Edward objected that Edmund was too “cold & formal,” and that Henry’s elopement was “unnatural”; her niece Fanny Knight was “not satisfied with the end,” and her mother “thought Fanny insipid.”[4]  Austen herself, four months before she died, wrote to Fanny Knight, “Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked.”[5]  Was she thinking of Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram?

            Jane Austen certainly never wrote another book like it, but Mansfield Park was an important step for her for several reasons.  It was the first novel that she wrote as a mature woman.  As she wrote Mansfield Park, she was enjoying the immense popularity of the novel of her youth, Pride and Prejudice.  She had just left the city of Bath, which she hated, and had come to live in the country with her mother and sister in a cottage that belonged to her wealthy brother.  Furthermore, Austen had not written for more than ten years, excepting a very brief (and very dark) fragment called The Watsons.  Scholars have long speculated on this “dry” period, most concluding that she was too unhappy to write.  She missed her old home at Steventon parsonage, and her beloved father died.  When she began Mansfield Park ten years after composing her youthful novels, Austen was also long past the age of expecting that she might marry.  While a hopeful and giddy young woman penned the ridiculous Love and Freindship (sic), the wicked Lady Susan, and the dashing Mr. Darcy, a very different woman created Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram.  Margaret Drabble writes,






            [Mansfield Park’s] narrator makes some very brave and difficult choices . . .             she is deliberately flying against the tide of her own rising popularity . . .            she is consciously tackling an almost impossible artistic problem.  She could have repeated her first “bright and sparkling” success . . . In             creating Fanny Price she knows that she herself, like her stubborn heroine             refusing to join in the play, will be unpopular.[6]   


            Austen would soon lighten her tone and produce what is arguably her greatest novel, Emma, but in Mansfield Park, she is at her darkest and most confusing.  After spending her childhood among people who were always putting on private theatricals, she condemns her own characters for doing the same.  After bringing to life her most popular heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, she condemns Mary Crawford for being very much like Elizabeth.  Some readers question whether the ending is, in fact, a “happy” one.  Finally, in the pages of Mansfield Park, Austen most closely approached the problem of evil, though she clothed her dark subjects, as she always did, with comedy.  She had dealt with adultery before, in both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, but never the adultery of a married person, much less a married woman. [7]  She would never deal with the subject again.  In Mansfield Park, Austen places obscure references to slavery, providing a field day for later “post-colonial” scholars.[8]  Austen ventures even to put a very dirty joke into the mouth of Mary Crawford, a pun about “rears and vices” in the Navy.  What was Jane Austen trying to accomplish with Mansfield Park, and did she succeed?  Mansfield Park is the firmest available statement of Austen’s theology:  While she agrees with Augustine on the nature of evil as a “nothing” that perverts and feeds on the good, Austen makes clear her belief in free will over determinism.


Austen’s Religious Background Reflected in Mansfield Park

            Before Austen’s theology in Mansfield Park can be addressed, important points of her religious background must be understood.  Modern scholars do not speak of Austen’s spirituality or religious beliefs, as if they are embarrassed that she was a Christian.  They smile at her brother’s eager assurance that “She was thoroughly religious and devout; fearful of giving offence to God . . . her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.”[9]  Austen scholars do not dwell very much on the religious remarks in her letters, nor her few prayers, which are usually published with her unfinished novels and juvenilia.  However, to ignore Austen’s spirituality and the few hints given of her theology is to miss some of the most important themes in her novels—none so much as Mansfield Park, her most “moral” and exasperating work:



            It is, quite simply, the problem of good and evil.  Mansfield Park is her         Pilgrim’s Progress, with Edmund and Fanny, the Christian hero and       heroine, fighting their way through temptation towards a not very clearly        defined goal.  There is no Celestial City for them.[10]


            Though it may be nothing more than a simple coincidence, the novel prominently features all of the “seven deadly sins”: lust (Henry and Maria’s affair), greed (Maria, Mary, Mrs. Norris), sloth (Lady Bertram), gluttony (Dr. Grant), vanity (Maria, Julia, Henry, Rushworth, Yates), envy (Maria, Julia, even Fanny), and wrath (Mrs. Norris).  Granted, specific appearances of the word “evil” refer more often than not to a postponed ball or a dull conversation, as in this humorous example:

            Mr. Rushworth wished he had brought the key; he had been very near        thinking whether he should not bring the key; he was determined he           would never come without the key again; but still this did not remove the       present evil.[11]


            Austen was the daughter of a country clergyman, but she did not put all clergymen up on pedestals.  There is at least one clergyman in each of her six major novels, and some would argue that not one of them represents his calling well.[12]  While she was writing Mansfield Park, Austen wrote to her sister: “Now I will try to write of something else;—it shall be a complete change of subject—Ordination.”[13]  In general, Austen presents the position of the clergyman as an occupational option for gentlemen, rather than a serious calling.  Austen knew full well that people disapproved of her portrayals of clergymen: “[Mr. Sherer] was displeased with my picture of clergymen,” and a lady “thought it wrong, in times like these, to draw such clergymen as Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton.”[14]  What can be said of Austen’s mostly negative portrayals of clergymen?  Without much knowledge of Austen’s life, one might jump on the psychological bandwagon and theorize that Austen was releasing negative emotions toward her father.  This, however, is simply not the case.  Austen adored her father, who supported her literary efforts.  It was he who provided her with expensive ink and paper from the time she was twelve.  He gave her free access to his library, which included “shocking” literature of the day, such as Tom Jones and Sir Charles Grandison.  He never discouraged her from writing what she wanted to write, which was admirable for an eighteenth-century clergyman whose teen-aged daughter was creating wicked, even violent, comedies and adulterous heroines like Lady Susan Vernon.  George Austen was the one who first tried to publish his daughter’s writing, sending to a publisher the manuscript of First Impressions, which would later become Pride and Prejudice.  He was truly “an exceptional father to his exceptional daughter.”[15]  Austen created faulty clergymen because she was a realist, and she knew that no clergyman is better than the people around him.

            In many ways, Austen was a Stoic, much like her heroines Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot.  She would have applauded the idea that “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.”[16]  Most of her fools are caricatures of excess—consider Nancy Steele, Charlotte Palmer, William Collins, Mr. Rushworth, Mrs. Elton, Miss Bates, John and Isabella Thorpe, and Mary Musgrove.

            As a member of the Church of England, Austen would have opposed Calvin’s teaching and affirmed “salvation by a combination of true faith and good works, free will and divine grace.”[17]  In fact, her novels do “lack the sense of inevitability or determinism found in both reformist novels and many didactically religious novels of the period.”[18]  In Mansfield Park, a shy girl with a drunken father and a lazy, irresponsible mother comes to replace Sir Thomas Bertram’s natural daughters, so that his “object of almost every day was to see her.”[19]  Fanny’s rise to a position of relative power stems soley from her own integrity and virtue.  As for Henry and Mary Crawford, Austen never lets the reader doubt that their downfall was a result of their choices.  Austen’s strong belief in free will will be addressed further below as part of the main discussion of her view of evil.

            Recently, scholars have explored Austen’s changing views of the Evangelical movement.  She writes quite frankly to Cassandra in 1809, “I do not like the Evangelicals,”[20] but five years later, she sends some love advice to her niece:

            As to there being any objection from his Goodness, from the danger of his    becoming even Evangelical, I cannot admit that.  I am by no means      convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least             persuaded that they who are so from Reason & Feeling, must be happiest and safest. . . . Don’t be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly   up to the precepts of the New Testament than others.[21]


The Evangelical movement had its beginnings in the early eighteenth century, when John Wesley started a campaign against laxity in the church.  Of the 10,533 livings in England in 1827, at least 6,000 clergymen did not actually live in their parishes, leaving the spiritual care of the people to curates (one is reminded of the criticism of Northanger Abbey’s Henry Tilney).[22]  Wesley’s message, originally for the poorer classes, gradually filtered up to the middle class, where it took the form of the Evangelical movement, whose members remained with the Church of England.[23]  The Evangelicals leaned toward Calvinism, and disapproved of frivolity; their distaste of anything sexual would take firm root in the Victorian mindset.  Their counterparts in later literature are grim, including Angel Clare in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the Murdstones in David Copperfield.  Clare and Murdstone are preceded in literature by a more positive Evangelical portrait, Jane Austen’s own Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park.

            Austen apparently agrees with the Evangelicals that clergymen should be more involved with the people of their parishes—specifically, that they should make their residences in the parishes they serve.  Edmund states, “I have no idea but of residence,” and his father agrees:

            A parish has wants and claims which can be known only by a clergyman    constantly resident . . . He knows that human nature needs more lessons   than a             weekly sermon can convey, and that if he does not live among his      parishioners and prove himself by constant attention their well-wisher      and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own.[24]


While Edmund does have right feelings about the serious duty of a clergyman, he also represents to modern readers the original criticism of the Evangelical movement.  Edmund is too quick to judge everyone, from his own sisters to his guests, and he comes across as an insufferable prude.  

            One more brief background discussion is necessary before the problem of evil in Mansfield Park  can be examined.  Austen’s opinion of slavery is not exactly a religious belief, but fits better under this category for the purpose of this presentation.  Though Austen never stated directly that she was opposed to slavery, there are several subtle hints in her novels that she was no supporter of the institution.  In Emma, Mr. Elton marries an Augusta Hawkins of Bristol.  Bristol, in Austen’s period, was a slave port, and Hawkins was the name of a notorious slave trader.  In her novel fragment Sanditon, left unfinished when she died, Austen introduces one of the first ethnic characters in English literature, a mulatto woman named Miss Lambe.  Finally—and most pertinent to this discussion—some scholars suggest that Austen named her third novel for the Mansfield Decision, named for the Lord Chief Justice who nullified the property rights of slave-owners to their slaves living in England.  Far more fascinating, the story of the Earl of Mansfield strongly parallels Mansfield Park.  In the 1780s, the Earl adopted his great-niece Elizabeth Murray, as well as her illegitimate biracial cousin, Dido Elizabeth Belle.  Dido lived as a member of the family and was raised in the manor house. In the Earl's will, she received a lifelong annuity, and he reaffirmed her emancipation.  In 1794, Dido left the estate to marry a clergyman.[25]

            Jane Austen had strong opinions about religion and politics, in spite of the fact that they do not seem to appear obviously in her novels.  Austen came closest to stating her beliefs in Mansfield Park, tackling slavery, the Evangelical movement, and the concept of free will, among other things.  Her firmest theological statement in the novel, however, is her subtle lesson on the Augustinian nature of evil, using the three-dimensional, sympathetic, and tragic characters of Henry and Mary Crawford.


Augustine and the Problem of Evil


            A brief overview of Augustine’s (354-430) theology must be incomplete.  For the purpose of this discussion, it is most helpful to focus on some of Augustine’s main points regarding the problem of evil.  Because God is infinite, Augustine believed that evil must be literally nothing.  Otherwise, evil would be a substance, and God would have to be limited.  All substance, then, is necessarily good:

            If they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be.  So long          therefore as they are, they are good: therefore whatsoever is, is good.  That           evil then, which I sought whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a       substance, it should be good.[26]


For Augustine, evil cannot exist without good; evil is like a parasite that feeds on something good and perverts it.  Therefore, “a flaw can exist only as a damage or fault in a good nature.”[27]



The Problem of Evil in Mary Crawford

            Suppose there is a novel about a young woman named Mary Crawford.  She is intelligent, witty, lively, sometimes rash, and very sensitive—another fictional character named Elizabeth Bennet comes to mind.  Mary, as an orphan, has been raised by her uncle and aunt.  The uncle does not have much use for her, but the aunt adores her.  Mary grows up under their care, no doubt observing the affair that her uncle makes no attempt to conceal from his wife.  When Mary’s aunt dies, she is devastated to lose one of the few people who loved her and cared about her.  To make matters worse, her uncle throws her out of his house so that his mistress can finally come to live with him.  Mary doesn’t know where she can go; her brother has a great estate, but does not offer to let her live there.  Fortunately, her sister, the wife of a clergyman, invites Mary to stay with them.  Mary meets a wealthy family close by.  Disillusioned by what she has so far seen of marriage, she is determined to marry someone rich—namely the older son of the wealthy family, who stands to inherit the great estate.  Her plan fails, however, when she falls in love with the younger son, a serious man whose only ambition is to be a clergyman.  He treats her with kindness and respect, unlike her uncle.  Mary also learns to love the young, shy cousin who lives with the family, though the cousin never returns her warmth.  Mary is delighted when her brother appears to fall in love with the cousin, even though the girl is very poor.  The cousin refuses Mary’s brother, however, and he elopes with a married woman.  Mary is upset, but is determined to remain faithful to her brother, whom she loves unconditionally.  The clergyman she loves tells her that he wants nothing more to do with her because she does not condemn her brother.  Mary goes to London, miserable and alone, and there the book ends.   

            Mary Crawford, along with her brother Henry, is one of the most troublesome characters in fiction—and one of Jane Austen’s finest creations.  She quickly commands the reader’s affection, though that affection turns to sympathy (and occasionally anger) over the course of the novel. 

            Crucial to evaluating Mary’s character is an understanding of the anger and hurt she feels regarding her uncle.  Admiral Crawford and his wife raised Henry and Mary; the Admiral favored Henry, while Mrs. Crawford loved Mary.  Admiral Crawford made no effort to hide his mistress from his wife, and when the latter died, he turned Mary out of his home to make room for the mistress.  Mary was doubly wounded, therefore, by both the death of her aunt (in effect, her mother) and the loss of her home.  Mary does not disguise her opinion of the Admiral.   She tells Edmund and Fanny coldly, “I have been . . . little addicted to take my opinions from my uncle.”[28]  When Henry decides to propose to Fanny, Mary says passionately, “If I could suppose the next Mrs. Crawford would have half the reason which my poor ill-used aunt had to abhor the very name, I would prevent the marriage, if possible.”[29]  Edmund and Fanny, always hasty to judge, criticize Mary for speaking ill of her uncle; they go so far as to suggest that Mrs. Crawford—who had to stand by while her husband carried on a blatant affair—did not teach Mary a proper respect for her uncle!  Fanny begins,

                        “She ought not to have spoken of her uncle as she did . . . I could     not have believed it!”

                        “I thought you would be struck.  It was very wrong—very     indecorous.”

                        “And very ungrateful I think . . . Do not you think that this     impropriety is a reflection itself upon Mrs. Crawford, as her niece has      been entirely brought up by her?  She cannot have given her right notions           of what was due to the admiral.”

                        “That is a fair remark.  Yes, we must suppose the faults of the niece             to have been those of the aunt.”[30]


            Scarred by her unhappy past, Mary nevertheless entertains those around her with her brightness and humor.  Apart from Edmund, she shows more concern for Fanny than anyone else at the Park.  When the Bertrams distress Fanny by insisting that she join their theatricals, Mary goes to sit by Fanny and comforts her.  Mary also has the moral intuition to recognize the bad effects of her uncle on Henry:

            My dearest Henry, the advantage to you of getting away from the    Admiral before your manners are hurt by the contagion of his . . . You are         not sensible of the gain, for your regard for him has blinded you; but, in             my estimation, your marrying early may be the saving of you.  To have      seen you grow like the Admiral in word or deed, look or gesture, would            have broken my heart.[31]


Tragically, Mary’s happiness at Henry’s “saving” himself with Fanny Price will be short-lived; by the end of the book, she will see her brother “grow like the Admiral,” and both Henry and Edmund will break her heart in their different ways.

            But there is a dark side to Mary, in whom Austen “diagnoses a moral disorder that, because less under conscious control, is both more alarming and more pitiful.”[32]  Edmund himself recognizes the tragedy of Mary: “This is what the world does.  For where, Fanny, shall we find a woman whom nature had so richly endowed?—Spoilt, spoilt!”[33]  Mary’s darker side is the very evil that perverts her good nature and good intentions.  Mary does make some frightening statements:

            There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry             . . . it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves.[34]


            What is to be done in the church?  Men love to distinguish themselves,       and in either of the other lines, distinction may be gained, but not in the church.  A clergyman is nothing.[35]


            Mary wants to do good, but her actions are often twisted into evil.  In trying to help her brother win the heart of Fanny Price, Mary tricks Fanny into accepting a necklace that Henry bought, telling her that it was a gift from herself.  Really believing that she did the right thing, she later tells Fanny, “I was delighted to act on his proposal, for both your sakes.”  Fanny, however, cries, “Oh!  Miss Crawford, that was not fair . . . had I had an idea of it, nothing should have induced me to accept the necklace.”[36]

            In spite of Mary’s past and her twisted attempts to do the right thing, Austen never lets the reader forget that Mary’s unhappy end comes as a result of her own choices.  There is no hint of determinism or fate.  Mary provides a bit of sad foreshadowing during a card game when she exclaims, “There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit.  No cold prudence for me . . . If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.”[37]

            Mary Crawford walks away from Mansfield Park as a tragic character, but Austen’s final words about Mary keep the door open for future happiness.  Readers who sympathize with her may well hope that she will eventually choose goodness over the  bitter cynicism that corrupts her judgment:



            Mary . . . was long in finding . . . any one who could satisfy the better taste             she had acquired at Mansfield, whose character and manners could        authorise a hope of the domestic happiness she had there learnt to           estimate.[38]


The Problem of Evil in Henry Crawford

             With Henry Crawford, Jane Austen created one of “the most compelling and complex evildoers” [39] in fiction.  Because of Henry, some scholars call Mansfield Park an artistic failure.  Austen introduces Henry as a rake; he spends the first volume of the novel flirting with both of the Bertram sisters, eventually setting them against each other.  He leads Maria Bertram to believe that he will propose to her, and he never does.  Upset, Maria consents to marry the idiotic, wealthy Mr. Rushworth, even though her father kindly offers to free her from the engagement.  Henry then tells Mary of his next amusement:

            My plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me . . . I cannot be satisfied     without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart      . . . Her looks say, “I will not like you, I am determined not to like you,”         and I say, she shall.[40]


Mary, genuinely concerned for Fanny, tells Henry not to make her “really unhappy,” for though “a little love perhaps may animate and do her good, . . . she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great deal of feeling.”[41]  Henry begins to try to capture Fanny’s attention, but she has never liked him.  In his efforts to make a conquest of Fanny, Henry falls “rationally as well as passionately”[42] in love with her and decides to propose.  Fanny refuses him, of course, angering Sir Thomas Bertram, who sends her home to Portsmouth.  Henry goes to visit her there, giving her and her crude family every kind attention.  At this point in the story, the reader feels that “every cynical remark of Henry’s is balanced by some act of generosity or evidence of a well-judging intellect.”[43]  He leaves Fanny to visit Mary, and Austen creates a plot twist which scholars have debated hotly ever since.  Henry meets Maria Bertram (now Rushworth) again, and they run off together in “a piece of standard fictional delinquency,” suggesting “rather less commitment to this part of the story on Austen’s part.” [44]  Chapman explains the problem eloquently, though he doesn’t agree with it:

            Henry Crawford was designed as the villain, came to life as a sympathetic

            character, and was driven back to sinful courses by an arbitrary use of his author’s prerogative.[45]


Instead of a warm story of redemption, Austen gives her readers a cold tragedy.  Not only does Henry’s foolish and wicked behavior cost him a chance at Fanny’s hand in marriage (which, Austen tells the reader, “must have been his reward—and a reward very voluntarily bestowed”[46]), but it also leads to Mary’s separation from Edmund, whom she really loved.  Jane Austen knew that she had disappointed people; her favorite brother—Henry, incidentally—didn’t understand why Henry Crawford had run off, and her sister begged her to change the ending, but she remained firm. It is a great injustice to suggest that Austen, who joked that “an artist can do nothing slovenly,”[47] lost control of her plot and finished her fourth novel with an ending which dissatisfied her.  Chapman agrees:

            It is a common view that Jane Austen vacillated, finally cutting the knot     with the blunt razor of elopement and adultery.  I cannot bring myself to        accept this.  If Jane Austen had made such a muddle of a book I think she            must have known it; she was incapable of self-deception.[48]


            Like his sister, Henry constantly creates evil out of potentially good acts.  He brings about the promotion of Fanny’s beloved brother, William, but does it chiefly to make Fanny feel obligated to him.  Therefore, he gives Fanny the news of her brother’s advancement in the navy and follows immediately with his first marriage proposal. 

            As with Mary, Austen also makes clear that Henry’s downfall is a result of his conscious, irresponsible choices.  In one especially poignant scene, Henry reflects on the virtuous William Price, wishing he were like him, and then quickly deciding that he doesn’t want to change:

            His heart was warmed . . . The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion,            of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in   shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price . . . instead    of what he was!   The wish was rather eager than lasting . . . he found it       was as well to be a man of fortune at once with horses and grooms at his            command.[49]



            Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.  I quit such odious subjects as    soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault            themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.[50] 


            Some scholars believe that the Crawfords are the true hero and heroine of Mansfield Park, while Edmund and Fanny are ironic characters.  One essay compares Fanny to the monster Grendel from Beowulf![51]  In none of her other novels does Jane Austen take readers into the points of view of her villains—not a single sentence—but Mansfield Park contains entire chapters devoted to the Crawfords.  Austen may be providing a hint that the Crawfords are not terrible villains, but genuinely good young people who go astray. 

            Austen actually leaves little doubt as to whose side she supports.  The narrator of Mansfield Park refers to Fanny as “my Fanny”—the only one of Austen’s heroines to have this distinction.  With all their faults, Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price are the hero and heroine of the novel.  Henry and Mary Crawford, clever and amusing and sympathetic as they are, nevertheless serve as Austen’s somber warning that evil can subtly undo people with the highest potential.                 






































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Morrow, Laurie.  “Novels of Manner for a Mannerless Age.”  World and I    (September 1996). 


Pinion, F. B.  A Jane Austen Companion.  New York: MacMillan, 1973.


Pool, Daniel.  What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to

            Whist—the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England.  New York: Simon        and Schuster, 1993.


Tomalin, Claire.  Jane Austen: A Life.  New York: Vintage Books, 1997.


Tyler, Natalie.  The Friendly Jane Austen.  New York: Viking, 1999.





                [1] The Republic of Pemberley website, run by a volunteer committee, hosts sixteen discussion boards, texts of Austen’s six novels and minor works, and the largest Austen information page on the internet.  The main page can be reached at


                [2]Jane Austen, “To Cassandra Austen, 4 February 1813,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 203.


                [3] Jane Austen, “Opinions of Mansfield Park,” Minor Works, in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, vol. 3, 3rd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 433-4.


                [4] Ibid., 431-2.


                [5] Jane Austen, “To Fanny Knight, 23 March 1817,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 335. 


                [6] Margaret Drabble, “Introduction,”  Mansfield Park (New York: Signet, 1996), xiii.


                [7] Austen did deal with an adulterous woman in her early epistolary novel, Lady Susan.  The title character, Susan Vernon, is one of the most wicked and fascinating characters Austen ever created, but the story was not published until decades after Austen’s death.


                [8] Emma also contains a subtle reference to the slave-trade, and Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, introduces one of the few mulatto characters in nineteenth-century literature.  These and the Mansfield Park reference will be further discussed below.


                [9] Henry Austen’s “Biographical Notice of the Author” appeared in the first editions of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which were published together posthumously in 1818.  Quoted from Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, vol. 5, 3rd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 8.


                [10] Jane Aiken Hodge, Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett Premier, 1972), 181.


                [11] Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, vol. 3, 3rd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 98.


                [12] In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood marries Edward Ferrars, who wants to be a clergyman.  Edward has high principles, but Austen portrays him as rather a weak, dull man.  Pride and Prejudice introduces one of the finest comic creations in literature, Reverend William Collins.  Obsequious and stupid, Collins loves to read from Fordyce’s Sermons as he tries to win the affections of whichever Bennet girl will bestow them first.  In Mansfield Park there are three clergyman.  The first, the unfortunate Mr. Norris, dies before the reader gets any idea of his character.  The second, Dr. Grant, is often criticized by his sister-in-law Mary Crawford for being a lazy glutton, and Mary’s assessment is on the mark.  Finally, there is Edmund Bertram, the “hero” of the story; Edmund, however, gives one the impression of being an unforgiving prig.  In Emma, Austen created the Reverend Philip Elton, a bad-natured man who marries a wealthy, vulgar woman.  Austen came closest to introducing a positive clergyman in Northanger Abbey with the charming, lively, and intelligent Henry Tilney, one of her most delightful male characters.  Some have pointed out, however, that Henry is a little flippant about his occupation and sometimes relies on his curate more than he ought.  Finally, in Persuasion, readers meet the poor clergyman Henry Hayter, though Austen does not reveal much of his personality.


                [13] Jane Austen, “To Cassandra Austen, 29 January 1813,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 202. 


                [14] Jane Austen, “Opinions of Emma,” in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen, vol. 6, 3rd ed., ed. R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 437.


                [15] Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 67.


                [16] Epictetus, The Enchiridion, trans. Thomas W. Higginson (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1948), 19.


            [17] Gary Kelly, “Religion and Politics,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, ed. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 149.


                [18] Kelly, “Religion and Politics,” 164.


                [19] Austen, Mansfield Park, 472.


                [20] Jane Austen, “To Cassandra Austen, 24 January 1809,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 170.


                [21] Jane Austen, “To Fanny Knight, 20 November 1814,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 280.


                [22] Daniel Pool, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 118.


                [23] Ibid., 119.


                [24] Austen, Mansfield Park, 248.

            [25] Irene Fizer, Natural Daughters: Illegitimacy and Cultural Production in the British Novel, 1778-1816, (University of Pennsylvania, 1996), 37.   


                [26] Augustine, Confessions VII.xii.18, trans. Marcus Dods, in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 18,  ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins (Chicago: William Benton, 1952), 49.


                [27] G. R. Evans, Augustine on Evil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 100.  See also Augustine, The City of God XI.17: “Wickedness can be a flaw or vice only where the nature previously was not vitiated.”

                [28] Austen, Mansfield Park, 111.


                [29] Ibid., 296.


                [30] Ibid., 63-4.


                [31] Austen, Mansfield Park, 296.


                [32] Thomas R. Edwards, “The Difficult Beauty of Mansfield Park,” in Modern Critical Interpretations: Mansfield Park, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), 7.


                [33] Austen, Mansfield Park, 455.


                [34] Ibid., 46.


                [35] Austen, Mansfield Park, 92.


                [36] Ibid., 362.


                [37] Ibid., 243.


                [38] Austen, Mansfield Park, 469.


                [39] Laurie Morrow, “Novels of Manner for a Mannerless Age,” World and I (September 1996):33.


                [40] Austen, Mansfield Park, 229-30.


                [41] Ibid., 231.


                [42] Austen, Mansfield Park, 474.


                [43] Drabble, “Introduction,” vii.


                [44] Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen: A Life (New York: Vintage, 1999), 232.


                [45] R. W. Chapman, Jane Austen: Facts and Problems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), 195


                [46] Austen, Mansfield Park, 467.


                [47] Jane Austen, “To Cassandra Austen, 18 November 1798,” in Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., ed. Deirdre Le Fay (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 20.


                [48] Chapman, Facts and Problems, 195.


                [49] Austen, Mansfield Park, 236.


                [50] Ibid., 461.


                [51] Nina Auerbach, “Feeling as One Ought about Fanny Price,” in Modern Critical Interpretations: Mansfield Park, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987), 103-116.