Mansfield Park opening chapter summary

Jane Austen uses the opening chapter in Mansfield Park to identify and outline her main points of view and themes for the rest of the novel. She establishes the idea of women becoming the social class of their husband; by three sisters from Huntingdon who were originally from a most likely good business middle classed family..

  • Miss Maria, who had the “good luck” to “captivate” and marry upper class Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park with a “large income”.
  • Miss Ward, found herself “obliged” to marry lower middle class Reverend Mr Norris who was friends with Sir Thomas with “scarcely any private fortune”
  • Miss Frances, however, married to “disoblige” her family to a working class lieutenant of the marines, without any education or fortune.

The identification of the class system was imperative at that time, so the names of the characters immediately identified their new social status after marriage. Miss Maria becomes ‘Lady Bertram’, Miss Ward becomes ‘Miss Norris’ and the most common working class name, Price, is given to Miss Frances who married the soldier, becoming ‘Mrs Price’. The way Austen establishes this idea of women marrying into their husbands social class gives off a negative effect, almost like she dislikes the system; 

“But there certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them”

This line so early in the opening chapter shows us Jane Austen’s view. The phrase “pretty woman” gives off a derogatory feel to the reader, explaining that the many “rich men” in the world only deserve the “pretty” ornament-like women.

This leads us back to the class system; the middle classes supported and provided for the upper class, whilst they used their land. Mr Norris being an example as he is given income in the living of Mansfield by friend Sir Bertram. And those who working classes work for, Mr Price for example, although he was unemployable due to his lack of education- this is what makes the middle classes stand out, their knowledge.





Some Jane Austen background info.

Jane Austen was an English novelist who was born in 1775-1817. She is known for her romantic fiction, realism, biting irony and social commentary, gaining her historical importance among scholars and critics. 

Growing up, Austen was mostly educated and tutored at home, although she and her beloved sister Cassandra were sent briefly to boarding schools – which they did not enjoy. The Austens were a keen literary family; Jane was a voracious reader who wrote from an early age, with much encouragement from her father. 

Neither she nor her sister Cassandra ever married, although Jane had several flirtations, most notably around 1796, with a young Irishman, Tom Lefroy. It is thought their elders did not approve of the match and he was sent away. Many years later, he admitted he had been in love with her. 

In the late 1790s, she has begun and redrafted three novels; ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and completed ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Emma’ and ‘Persuasion’, which was written as her health failed her. She moved to Winchester for treatment but died of tubercular disease of the kidneys in 1817 aged 41. Her workd were read and celebrated in her own time though she was published anonymously.

Jane Austen can be claimed to be the first real feminist writer as she preoccupies her work with women’s issues. She is a comedy writer, generally involving humour, irony or exaggeration. Her novels involve a ‘happy ending’, involving a wedding or some sort of engagement. Austen also involves heroins in her work, who are put through a series of obstacles and ‘Christian trials’ such as enduring some kind of isolation or being unfairly accused. These heroins are said to be the ‘best Christian’ and most well-rounded characters.