Mansfield Park

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Themes and Colors
Money and Marriage Theme Icon
Manners vs. Morality Theme Icon
Letters and Character Theme Icon
The Country vs. the City Theme Icon
Inheritance and Meritocracy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Mansfield Park, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Country vs. the City Theme Icon

Throughout the book, characters in Mansfield Park move between their country homes at Mansfield and the surrounding property and cities like London and Portsmouth for business and for pleasure. Over the course of these travels, and through the characters’ discussions of these two different kinds of environments, Austen expresses a difference in how she and her characters view rural spaces versus how they see urban spaces, and how, although city-spaces are viewed as more sociable and cultured, certain types of knowledge are only accessible in the country.

Mansfield, which is in the country, is a place of quiet, tranquility, and health. It is at Mansfield that Fanny’s health improves, and that the young people practice invigorating sports like riding. Fanny frequently comments on the silence of Mansfield, and she and the other young people at Mansfield and its environs seem occasionally bored by the area’s sleepiness. Mary Crawford repeatedly says that she could not live in the country for a long time because she would miss the fast-paced fun of London, where she lived previously.

The city (be it London, Portsmouth, or elsewhere), meanwhile, is lively and intense, with constant stimulation and entertainment. Maria and Julia are thrilled to go to London, where there are more social engagements to be had. Marys time in London gives her a cultured, cosmopolitan air that is very charming, and she has the city to thank for her massive network and highly developed social graces. Fanny’s house in Portsmouth, similarly, is clamoring with her siblings’ noisy play, prompting her to seek out spaces of quiet.

Despite these benefits, however, the city is an imperfect place. For one thing, Austen shows that characters who have little exposure to country life also are ignorant about the way middle and lower class rural people live, and so come across as snobby and entitled. For example, at one point in the book Mary is trying to get her harp transported from London to the Parsonage, but cannot find a farmer to rent a cart from because it is harvest time. Mary is shocked that her money cannot convince them, and when she relates this story to Edmund, he is surprised that she is. Marys lack of awareness of harvest shows how little Mary understands about the people who are of a lower class than she is—a concerning fact, since the gentrys wealth depends on their tenants. Henry, likewise, never knew his tenants before Fanny convinced him to meet with them. In a novel that entertains ideas of meritocracy as a viable alternative to aristocracy and gentry, utter removal from the lives of common people seems dangerously out of touch.

Austen also codes the city as a space of danger and vice. When the characters discuss London in Mansfield, they generally refer to it as a depraved place. When Mary, for example, suggests that preachers are morally corrupt, Edmund responds that she must be referring to the preachers in London.

And indeed, morally upright Fanny finds Portsmouth, where bad behavior reigns, to be considerably less enjoyable than Mansfield. Mr. Price’s alcoholism shadows Fanny’s view of Portsmouth as she observes how his problem heavily and negatively influences her family’s finances and dynamic. Moreover, it is in Portsmouth that Fanny, against her better judgment, begins to consider falling in love with Henry—a decision that, had it not been avoided, would have proved detrimental. Fannys health even suffers in the city, where it is harder for her to get exercise.

Ultimately, the city proves to be a thoroughly disastrous environment for the Bertram children. During his tenure in London, Tom takes a trip to the city of Newcastle and falls deathly ill after a night of rowdy drinking. He then needs to be brought back to Mansfield to recover. Likewise, it is in London that Maria and Julia make their terrible decisions to run away with Henry and Mr. Yates, respectively, ruining their reputations and gravely upsetting their family. Ultimately the damage that the family experiences in and around the city marks Austen’s clear preference country life. This preference is reinforced by the fact that the novel’s happy ending takes place in the country near Mansfield, where Edmund and Fanny settle.

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The Country vs. the City Quotes in Mansfield Park

Below you will find the important quotes in Mansfield Park related to the theme of The Country vs. the City.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Guess my surprise, when I found that I had…offended all the farmers, all the labourers, all the hay in the parish…coming down with the true London maxim, that every thing is to be got with money, I was a little embarrassed at first by the sturdy independence of your country customs.

Related Characters: Mary Crawford (speaker), Edmund Bertram
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mary tells Edmund about her debacle trying to get her harp to the Parsonage. She had not realized that it is unreasonable to ask farmers to use their cart during harvest season, and accidentally offended many of them due to her ignorance.

Mary’s confusion when she could not rent a cart, despite the fact that she was offering money, shows how Mary believes that her wealth can accomplish anything. Moreover, it’s Mary’s city upbringing that has left her ignorant of the ways of the rural working class, which is to say most of the country. Her ignorance comes across as snobbish and rude, since it suggests that she does not understand how hard the farmers must work during harvest time to make their living.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

“How can two sermons a week… do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.”
“You are speaking of London, I am speaking of the nation at large.”
“The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest.”
“Not, I should hope, of the proportion of virtue to vice throughout the kingdom. We do not look in great cities for our best morality.”

Related Characters: Edmund Bertram (speaker), Mary Crawford (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mary and Edmund debate their views of ministers and the role they can play in their communities. Mary says that she is skeptical of the idea of ministers making their parishioners better people, since they only give two sermons a week. Edmund argues that she is speaking of London, and that in the rest of the country, clergymen are very present role models in their communities.

When Edmund suggests that Mary’s negative view of absentee clergymen is because of her experience in London, he suggests that London is a place that is less morally sound than the rest of the country. In doing so, Edmund adds to the comments throughout the book that code London, and cities in general, as a place where morality is threatened. When Mary suggests that London is a representative sample, she reveals how little she understands the rest of the country, which thinks of itself as, and indeed is, highly different from the metropolis. Edmund and Mary’s conversation shows that their views on religion and the role of the clergy are highly different, as well as their understandings of the city as a moral landscape.

Chapter 20 Quotes

He was going…—He might talk of necessity, but she knew his independence.—The hand which had so pressed hers to his heart!—The hand and the heart were alike motionless and passive now!...She had not long to endure what arose from listening to language, which his actions contradicted, or to bury the tumult of her feelings under the restraint of society… and the farewell visit, as it then became openly acknowledged, was a very short one.

Related Characters: Maria Bertram, Henry Crawford
Page Number: 130-131
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator describes Maria’s thoughts as Henry says goodbye to her for the last time before she is married. Maria had hoped that Henry would propose to her, saving her from a loveless marriage to Mr. Rushworth, but he does not.

Though Maria is not an especially sympathetic character in the book, her heartbreak as it becomes clear that Henry will not propose to her is quite poignant. Henry has been leading Maria on, and divorcing his intimate, flirtatious words from his noncommittal actions (now that he is leaving, Maria has “not long to endure…listening to language which his actions contradicted”).

Maria is confused as to why Henry frames leaving as a necessity when she knows that he can go wherever he wants. In contrast, Maria’s movement, along with most women in 19th century England, is highly restricted because she does not have her own money and cannot travel alone. The difference in their freedom of movement, which Maria evokes by noting Henry’s ability to come and go, serves as just one example of how societal inequalities give Henry the power to control their relationship. Likewise, it is not in Maria’s power to propose to Henry.

Maria strongly feels her restrictions as a woman, especially in terms of marriage, as she indicates when she says she must “bury the tumult of her feelings under the restraint of society,” evoking her earlier sentiments at Sotherton that she feels stifled by the iron gate, which represents the limits of socially acceptable action.

Chapter 39 Quotes

She could think of nothing but Mansfield…Every thing where she now was in full contrast to it. The elegance, propriety, regularity, harmony, and perhaps, above all, the peace and tranquillity of Mansfield, were brought to her remembrance every hour of the day, by the prevalence of everything opposite to them here… If tenderness could be ever supposed wanting, good sense and good breeding supplied its place…Here everybody was noisy, every voice was loud…The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke.

Related Characters: Fanny Price
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

When the narrator articulates this quote, Fanny has been at Portsmouth for long enough to realize that her childhood home is not what she imagined it would be. Fanny originally thought that she would prefer Portsmouth to Mansfield because at Portsmouth she would be loved by her mother and siblings and treated as an equal.

However, as this quote makes clear, Fanny finds the change of habits, pace, and environment overwhelming. Mansfield represents a countryside household, a place of peace and tranquility, and provides the nature and quiet that Fanny enjoys. Portsmouth, meanwhile, which represents a poorer urban household, is full of commotion and constant noise.

At Portsmouth, Fanny does not find the love she is looking for in her mother, who is too busy to spend time with her. Fanny also realizes that manners are more important to her than she thought. She longs to live in a space like Mansfield where the inhabitants respect each other’s peace and quiet. Fanny says that if Mansfield lacked “tenderness,” at least it had “good sense and good breeding,” suggesting that, though Mansfield is not as loving as she would like, she appreciates the manners there.