Early in 1811, Jane Austen began to plan what would be the first novel fully written in her maturity. She started writing it in 1812, she sent it to her publisher Thomas Egerton in late 1813, and it was published as a three volume novel in 1814. The title page announced that it was ‘By the Author of Pride and Prejudice‘. It was then reprinted by John Murray, who purchased the rights, in 1816.
The novel is set mostly in Northamptonshire at the estate owned by Sir Thomas Bertram, Mansfield Park. It also moves to Portsmouth, home of the much poorer Price family. It begins with a brief description of events in about 1780 (when the three Ward sisters find husbands), and then covers the period of about 1801 to 1811, from the arrival of ten year old Fanny Price at Mansfield, to her marriage to her cousin Edmund Bertram.
Mansfield Park has remained the most controversial of Jane Austen’s novels. For some readers the hero and heroine are not likeable characters, while for other readers they are sympathetic creations, and the novel as a whole is rich, substantial and wonderfully satisfying. Jane Austen’s use of symbolism and foreshadowing are particularly skilful in this novel.
The novel examines displacement, selfishness, education, vocation, both sanctioned and illicit love, crime, and many other eternal themes and issues. Mansfield Park is a superbly rich and timeless classic, which demands frequent re-reading.
Caption: Illustration from Mansfield Park by A Wallis Mills, 1908