books, Emma, endings, Fiction, happiness, happy endings, Jane Austen, literature, Mansfield Park, Mansfield Park 200th anniversary, Sheila Johnson Kindred
Thirty-ninth, and last, in a series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. For more details, open Your Invitation to Mansfield Park.
Happy holidays, everyone, and thank you very much for celebrating Mansfield Park with me this year!
It’s a great pleasure to give the last word in this series to Sheila Johnson Kindred, my friend and frequent collaborator on Austen-related projects, and my fellow co-chair of the Programs Committee for JASNA Nova Scotia. Sheila and I meet regularly for tea to discuss our research and writing and our plans for upcoming JASNA meetings. This past year, we focused on our breakout session for the 2014 JASNA AGM, “Among the Proto-Janeites: Reading Mansfield Park for Consolation in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1815.” I’m pleased to report that we had a wonderful time presenting the paper in Montreal and discussing the story of Lady Sherbrooke and Mary Wodehouse with our audience – many thanks to everyone who attended! – and that the paper has just been published in Persuasions On-Line. Read about why we think Hilary Mantel is wrong to say that “No one who read it closely was ever comforted by an Austen novel” – you can find our essay at this link.
There are so many good things to read in this new issue of Persuasions On-Line, including essays by Theresa Kenney, Kathryn Davis, and Elaine Bander, all of whom contributed to “An Invitation to Mansfield Park,” and the 2013 Jane Austen Bibliography by Deborah Barnum, who was also a contributor.
For many years, Sheila Kindred taught in the Philosophy Department at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. She has done extensive original research about the life of Jane Austen’s naval brother Captain Charles Austen and his associations with his sister’s novels, and she has presented her research at JASNA AGMs in Quebec City, Philadelphia, and New York. She was invited to speak at two Jane Austen Society (UK) conferences, in Halifax in 2005, and in Bermuda in 2010. Her work has been published in Persuasions and The Jane Austen Report, and in the collection of essays I edited for the Jane Austen Society following their 2005 Halifax conference, Jane Austen and the North Atlantic.
What begins must eventually end and it is now time for the “last post.” Sarah’s “Invitation to Mansfield Park” has sparked a wonderful set of blog posts and an ongoing debate. Thank you, Sarah, for making all this possible. There has been much enjoyment and much food for thought. I consider it a pleasure and a challenge to have a last word on Jane Austen’s last words in Mansfield Park. Here are her two concluding paragraphs:
With so much merit and true love, and no want of fortune or friends, the happiness of the married cousins must appear as secure as earthly happiness can be. – Equally formed for domestic life, and attached to country pleasures, their home was the home of affection and comfort; and to complete the picture of good, the acquisition of Mansfield living by the death of Dr. Grant occurred just after they had been married long enough to begin to want an increase in income, and to feel their distance from the paternal abode an inconvenience.
On that event, they removed to Mansfield, and the parsonage there, which under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as every thing else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had long been.
– From Mansfield Park, Chapter 48 (London: Penguin, 1985)
Jane Austen begins her final chapter with the words “let others dwell on guilt and misery.” She wishes instead to “restore everybody not greatly at fault to tolerable comfort.” She clearly signals the novel is about to culminate in a happy ending. In fact, Austen gives us a double deal. The final two paragraphs present two equally happy endings but from different perspectives. Or do they? In considering the double endings of the novel, I also want to address their intent and impact.
In the first paragraph, Jane Austen invites us to track selected events in Fanny’s very happy marriage to Edmund. The tone of the narrative voice is warm and approving; their reward is to enjoy more than “tolerable comfort.” We are told that their “home [at Thornton Lacey] was a home of comfort and affection.” (Notice that Austen repeats, for emphasis, the important idea that this place is a home.) Then “the picture of good” is completed when the Mansfield parsonage suddenly becomes available on the death of Dr. Grant. We learn just enough to sustain an ongoing interest in the course and chronology of Fanny and Edmund’s married life. It is evident that they will be more financially secure (it has been estimated that the two livings of Thornton Lacey and Mansfield could be worth as much as £1500 annually). This fact, together with their wish to be closer to the “paternal abode,” prompts speculation about why these changes in circumstances are so welcome. It seems as if Fanny may be pregnant, if not already the mother of young children, a state of affairs which would surely add to their married happiness.
In this concise description of Fanny and Edmund’s current situation, there is the suggestion of a natural, even organic progression of events. The parsonage conveniently became available “just after” they had reason to desire it for themselves. This ordering of occurrences underlines the conviction that it is right that Fanny and Edmund are to become the meritorious custodians of the parsonage and that Fanny will be influential in the moral, social, and cultural sphere of the Mansfield estate.
Here is a natural happy ending for the novel. But it does not conclude here for Jane Austen adds a further tantalizing paragraph. Note how the narrative voice changes. This last paragraph continues the factual account of the previous one, but it moves away from a description of where and when Fanny and Edmund will be making their home. Rather, it records Fanny’s own greatly altered attitude to the parsonage. As in much of the novel, Fanny’s inner life is brought sharply into focus. We are reminded of her former negative thoughts and intense feelings about the parsonage owing to those who had previously lived there, feelings which are now replaced by positive emotions, terms of endearment and the language of superlatives. To the extent that Mansfield Park is, perhaps more than any other of Austen’s novels, save Persuasion, the story of the heroine’s internal and reflective life, this paragraph also presents an appropriately happy conclusion: Mansfield Park and the parsonage become in the end “thoroughly perfect in [Fanny’s] eyes.”
Yet, in identifying Fanny’s happy state of mind, Austen establishes a sharp counterpoint with her earlier feelings towards the parsonage which she “had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint and alarm.” In a single sentence we are reminded of the torments of spirit that Fanny has suffered, which were administered by the evil Mrs. Norris and the conniving Crawfords. Mrs. Norris’s treatment of Fanny over the course of eight and a half years, before she was banished with Maria from Mansfield, was simply intolerable. Mary Crawford’s conduct towards Fanny made her feel uncomfortable and restrained. Fanny was perpetually on guard and felt constrained to hide any hint of her own love for Edmund. She was increasingly distressed that Mary might win Edmund’s affections and become his wife. As for Henry Crawford, she found his determined pursuit of her affections utterly alarming.
Austen’s acknowledgment of Fanny’s history of painful sensations is telling, for it reminds us that, as the novel progresses, Fanny did find the strength to be less timid and the courage to be more autonomous. Fanny was greatly discomforted but not cowed by her tormentors. In fact, Fanny displays courage, fortitude, and forbearance. Austen seems to invite us to approve this behaviour as virtuous conduct. Fortitude and forbearance are necessary in Fanny’s miserable circumstances to sustain her in holding to her principle regarding marriage. For Fanny, that is marriage to Edmund, not Henry, for happiness in marriage is, in Austen’s lexicon, only achieved with someone both truly loved and esteemed.
With that fulfilled by her union with Edmund, it is not surprising that Fanny’s concluding endorsement of Mansfield Park is so fulsome. But is Fanny justified in subjectively reaching this conclusion, or is her view of the situation an example of seeing Mansfield through rose-coloured glasses? She was often treated in a way that required gratitude and subservience, states of mind which did not encourage independent and critical thinking. She has been the victim of cruelty, discrimination, and misunderstanding on the part of many of its inhabitants. How could Fanny have forgotten this treatment?
To answer this question we need to look back into the history of Fanny’s earlier judgments about Mansfield Park and to the ostensible reasons for them. Her disquiet and discomfort in living at Mansfield are relieved by the news she is to return to her original home in Portsmouth. But her joy at the imagined warmth of her reception and life among her immediate family is dispelled by its real condition – all noise and squalor. At Portsmouth she “could think of nothing but Mansfield, its beloved inmates, its happy ways.” She recalls its “elegance, propriety, regularity and harmony and – perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquility” (Chapter 39). Fanny’s sentiments at this point may exhibit wishful thinking – the desire to call to mind all the positive features of Mansfield that her memory can conjure up. Certainly her point of view seems highly coloured.
Yet within the first week back among the Prices she realizes that “though Mansfield Park might have some pain, Portsmouth could have no pleasures” (Chapter 39). She persists in this attitude. After three months in the Prices’ home, she reflects on the realization that “Portsmouth was Portsmouth; Mansfield was home” (Chapter 45). It is at Mansfield Park that she feels useful and wanted. Indeed her sense of self is tied to the Mansfield community despite the misfortunes she has had to endure there in the past.
By the end of the novel (Chapter 48), all Fanny’s miseries and anxieties have been dispelled, and replaced by a truly congenial atmosphere at Mansfield Park. The bad influences – Mrs. Norris, Maria, Mary and Henry Crawford – have been permanently excluded from the Mansfield community. Sir Thomas has realized the errors of his ways as head of the Mansfield family and has reformed his attitudes, especially towards Fanny, with whom he has established a “mutual attachment” which was “very strong.” The change of personnel is probably sufficient reason for Fanny’s fond conclusion about the excellence of Mansfield Park. But Austen gives us a further insight. She points us towards the happy improvements that Fanny herself will make possible. She leaves us with a Fanny who is no longer the timid, meek girl who arrived at Mansfield Park at the age of ten. She has been replaced with a young woman of sense and strength of character, who is now confident of her place in the Mansfield community. Fanny has become the “true daughter of Mansfield Park,” and her standards and convictions will set an ongoing example of goodness and virtuous behaviour.
To read more about all the posts in this series, visit An Invitation to Mansfield Park. Many, many thanks to everyone who participated in the series, by reading, by contributing guest posts and comments, and by sharing links to the series with other readers.
This is the first time I’ve hosted a party that lasted for the better part of eight months. Back in the fall of 2013, when I first mentioned to Sheila and to Elaine Bander, Coordinator of the 2014 JASNA AGM, that I was thinking of putting together a celebration of this complex, challenging, endlessly fascinating novel, I had no idea just how big the party would become, or how much of 2014 I would spend corresponding with contributors and talking about Mansfield Park over email, in person, and on the blog. It’s been a delight to introduce you to each other, to listen to the conversations at this party, and to participate in some of the discussions as time allowed.
I continue to be in awe of Jane Austen’s achievement in this brilliant novel. Hosting this blog series has been a fabulous experience, and I’m grateful to all of you for coming to the party.
Let me know if you’re interested in celebrating 200 years of Emma with me in 2016….
In the meantime, however, I’ll see you in 2015. Best wishes for a wonderful year!
Carol Settlage said:
Many many thanks to you, Sarah for hosting this wonderful series of lectures on Mansfield park, and to all the contributors who have added so much to my understanding and deeper enjoyment of an already favorite novel!
This concluding article was the perfect ending and once again enhanced one’s appreciation of Fanny’s transformation and her final well deserved happy situation! It makes one wish to be a fly on the wall listening to the family interactions with Tom now changed for the better, and Susan happy and learning, and especially the animated discussions of Fanny, Edmond and Sir Thomas, witnessing their mutual attachment and Fanny’s merited respect!
While Emma has never been one of my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels, I would look forward to reading your blog and no doubt come to better appreciate it as well! 🙂
Sarah Emsley said:
You’re welcome, Carol. I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the series and that it added to your appreciation of the novel. I can see what you mean about wanting to listen in on what happens to the characters afterwards, and I suppose that feeling must be what prompts so many people to keep writing more stories about Jane Austen’s characters. I find it so fascinating that she inspires curiosity and creativity in her readers.
I’ll look forward to celebrating Emma with you. Thank you very much for following my Mansfield Park series. It was lovely to meet you in Montreal — too bad there wasn’t more time to chat. Best wishes for the holidays!
Lady T said:
A lovely way to finish this series,Sarah and much thanks to you and all of those who gave us such wonderful insights into Mansfield Park this year.
Sarah Emsley said:
Thank you so much for your kind words about Sheila’s post and about the series in general. It was a real pleasure to bring people together for this celebration. Thanks for coming to the party!
This was a wonderful series and I’m so glad I found it. It completely changed and enriched my view of MP.
Sarah Emsley said:
I’m very glad you found it, too, maidrya. Thank you very much for your many contributions to the discussions! Although the series has drawn to a close, I still feel there’s so much more to be said about Mansfield Park. I’m continuing to listen to the audiobook (Juliet Stevenson is so good at reading Austen) and while I’m looking forward to focusing on 200 years of Emma, I’m not quite ready to leave MP behind.
Thank you for celebrating with us, and thank you for your thoughtful responses to the guest posts.
Julie Buck said:
Fabulous conclusion to a great series of blog posts, so thoughtfully given throughout this “year of Mansfield”. This is a novel which I have to admit, hid its charms from me, very successfully until this year. Our own JASNA chapter began the year with a program of discussion of the novel and it wasn’t until I could hear others’ comments, and begin to reflect more on the book that I could begin to appreciate it. This series of blog posts has added greatly to that. Mansfield Park will never be my favorite, but I no longer think of it as “unAustentacious”. I see how Fanny might very well be closer to Jane Austen than any other heroine, and I have found the discussions very heartwarming and illustrious. Thank you.
Sarah Emsley said:
It’s been a delight to celebrate the Year of Mansfield Park and Fanny Price with all of you. Thank you, Julie, for saying such nice things about the series. I’m very glad to hear you enjoyed reading the guest posts and that they enriched your understanding of the novel. I agree with you — the charms of Mansfield Park are not obvious. But taking time to discover them is certainly worth the effort.
I have to agree that this was the perfect ending to this series. It’s proof of Austen’s attention to detail that she understands that Fanny would have very different feelings about the parsonage when she comes to it as Edmund’s wife than she would have had under the previous tenants, and feels that it is important to point it out to her readers. It really just wraps up the whole novel perfectly.
And many thanks to Sarah for hosting this event! I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts so much and am honored to have been asked to participate.
Sarah Emsley said:
You’re welcome! I’m so happy you accepted the invitation. I’ve thought a lot about your post on the manipulations of Mary and Henry C. and I was discussing it again with my family yesterday. With each rereading of the novel, I marvel even more at the lengths they go to to get their own way, and my admiration for Fanny’s resistance increases.
Kirk Companion said:
Thanks so much for a great series! While I go my own odd way on some aspects and elements, it was a complete education….along with a certain volume about MP that I just enjoyed. 🙂
Emma certainly gets her share of the conversation….and then some! And she deserves it! Although it is my 4th favorite of the big six(the gaps between the big 6 have fallen in the past 4 yrs to very small margins), Emma is a world I enjoy going back to again and again…so I vote yes for an Emma series….if it doesn’t take up all your time.
P.S. On Goodreads there is a publication date listed for the next Penderwicks!(I wouldn’t refer to it as the end)
Sarah Emsley said:
Thank you very much for sharing links to the series so many times this year, Kirk. I really appreciate your interest in the blog. Glad to hear you enjoyed the MP volume, even if — like Fanny — you “like to go [your] own way.”
I think an Emma series would be fun, though it will probably have to be shorter than the MP series. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for your vote.
And yes — Penderwicks in the spring of 2015! I love the cover of the new book. Can’t wait.
MP is a rural paradise of sorts, where a petty slave-owning god rules by fear, though not very successfully. One of his daughters marries in order “to escape from him and Mansfield as soon as possible,” and the other out of “increased dread of her father and of home .” His eldest son spends “so little of his time at home that he could be only nominally missed.” Edmund is the only member of the family Sir Thomas can rely on. And yet, in his absence, Mary Crawford seduces him into taking part in private theatricals, which he knows his “father would totally disapprove.” On the latter’s return, Edmund feels guilty and confesses, subsequently trying to regain Sir Thomas’s trust, always torn between love and the need for parental approval. Almost from the beginning MC realises who she’s up against: “Blest Knight! whose dictatorial looks dispense To Children affluence, to Rushworth sense.” Their conflicting designs on Edmund lead her to consider his opponent with “decided ill will.” Things come to a head when Maria and Henry Crawford elope: Edmund can no longer expect to marry Mary, calls on her for “a last interview of friendship,” and “his eyes are finally open.” Not only does the absence of “modest loathings” shock him, but she also dares to suggest that Sir Thomas should refrain from interfering. This is too much for Edmund: he regrets having to leave her, but daddy comes first … He comes back home, sinners are banished, and eventually our hero marries his sisterly cousin, the daughter his father wanted. And just as they were beginning to “feel their distance from the paternal abode an inconvenience,” Dr Grant pops off, so they can move into the parsonage and live “within the view and patronage of MP.”
Is this a happy ending? JA seems to believe so. Is it convincing? Not very, IMHO. Can the ghost of another novel be found in the last chapter? I tend to agree with Lynn Shepherd here. I’m not quite sure MP may be classed as a tragedy, but it looks too dark for a comedy. The real “tragedy” would be the main characters’ inability to communicate with the outside world and learn from it:
“I had gone a few steps, … when I heard the door open behind me. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she. I looked back. ‘Mr. Bertram,’ said she, with a smile; but it was a smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite in order to subdue me; at least it appeared so to me. I resisted; it was the impulse of the moment to resist, and still walked on. I have since, sometimes, for a moment, regretted that I did not go back, but I know I was right, and such has been the end of our acquaintance. And what an acquaintance has it been! How have I been deceived! Equally in brother and sister deceived! I thank you for your patience, Fanny. This has been the greatest relief, and now we will have done.”
I’d like to thank Sarah and all the authors and comment writers. You’ve enlightened me and made me think, and change some of my views. I’m sorry, I still don’t like Fanny or Edmund, and I don’t think I ever will, but MP is nevertheless a very interesting and thought-provoking book, and it’s been wonderful to take a small part in the discussion.
Looking forward to an invitation to Highbury, even if I you put me up at the Bateses’ 🙂 Happy New Year!
Sarah Emsley said:
I do think it’s a tragedy, and that while the ending isn’t exactly blissfully happy, it is still happy. Fanny has resisted pressure from those who ask her to act against her conscience, and the happiness comes first from her strength and conviction, and secondly from her union with Edmund.
Thanks very much for all your contributions to the conversations about MP, Monica! It would be dull indeed if we all agreed about all of Austen’s novels. Mansfield Park is certainly challenging and it has been wonderful to have the opportunity this year to focus on some of the important questions Austen raises in the novel. Glad to hear you’re interested in talking about Emma. Happy New Year to you, too!
Jacky Hood said:
Alas, Maria and Henry did not ‘elope’ and Austin says they cannot marry. Why? Once her husband divorces her, what would prevent their marriage?
Jacky Hood said:
Although I agree with many commenters that Fanny is by far too wimpy, it’s the lack of any older women of character that mars this novel for me. Mrs. Norris is despicable, Mrs. Bertram too lazy, Mrs. Price too downtrodden, Mrs. Grant (though probably not ‘older’) too ill-defined.
Jacky Hood said:
I do not understand why Austin writes that Mary’s needs do not exceed her own income but would exceed the combined income of Edmund’s and hers. Bad arithmetic? Also, it is not clear when Austin says Mary has 20,000 pounds if she means capital or inrteresr. If capital, 20,000 is enormously more than Edmund’s 700. However, if it’s capital, the income would not exceed 2000 per year even if well-invested.
Jacky Hood said:
It appears that Edmund did not think it necessary to ask Mr. Price for Fanny’s hand; the uncle was sufficient. Even the high-minded Edmund seems to think money is more important than relationships.
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