at some points in the novel, the world of Mansfield Park seems to contain only the half mile between Sir Thomas Bertram’s house and the parsonage and to be populated only by the named residents of the two houses. Mrs. Norris may send Fanny off to the White House, where Nanny acts as her lieutenant, Henry Crawford may tell a man mending a hedge that he has happened upon Thornton Lacey, and Julia may remark bitterly that the Mansfield Theatricals will enliven the neighborhood—but for the most part that neighborhood remains unpeopled. We hear mention of Charles Maddox and Tom Oliver, and certainly the ball Sir Thomas gives for Fanny and William is well-attended, but Fanny’s lack of acquaintance with that neighborhood renders its inhabitants insubstantial.
The world of Portsmouth is somewhat more fully realized since the many Prices and their voluble servant, Rebecca, are crowded in a few small rooms. A neighbor lends Mr. Price the newspaper, Mrs. Price meets up with friends on a Sunday, and other locals criticize Fanny’s lack of wardrobe and accomplishments and are judged in their turn for a lack of manners and breeding. Still, no names are attached. These figures never step out of their shadows.
And yet, in Mansfield Park Jane Austen creates a world of dimension. Though without “too many particulars of right hand & left” (9-18 Sept. 1814) specified, the landscape of Sotherton, with its garden, bowling green, wilderness, haha, and avenue, can be mapped. More crucially, the dimensions of Fanny’s world are created by interior spaces, such as the East room; by the characters who inhabit her daily life; by the books she reads—Cowper’s The Task, Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows (itself an adaptation of Kotzebue’s Das Kind der Liebe), an account of Macartney’s embassy to China, Shakespeare’s Henry VIII—and the other worlds of space and time that those books represent. Though we may wonder how large the neighborhood of Mansfield Park is, and who precisely inhabits it, because of our focus on Fanny its reality is fully established—at least until Jane Austen pulls out her narrative fiat to conclude the novel.
This year’s AGM—Mansfield Park in Montréal: Contexts, Conventions and Controversies—so ably organized by Elaine Bander, provided a wealth of complementing and contending perspectives on how Austen creates that sense of reality. This issue of Persuasions On-Line prints a substantial selection of essays from the AGM. (Others will be included in Persuasions 36, to be mailed in the spring.) Here you will find essays on character and plot, religion and conduct, poetry, music, the sights and smells of Portsmouth, the news, and some of the readers and adapters of Mansfield Park. The Miscellany provides an equally rich set: on the history of Jane Austen and her family even before the novels, on elements of the novels themselves, and on what Austen’s novels have produced.
As always, this journal is the product of much work by many contributors: the authors, the members of the editorial board (listed on the title page), who read and comment and share their expertise with boundless good will; Katie Turner, who proofread and checked quotations; and of course Carol Moss, JASNA’s indefatigable web master, who contributes technical knowhow, attention to detail, creative energy, and wisdom.