Mansfield Park


Jane Austen

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Mansfield Park: Satire 4 key examples

Definition of Satire
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of satire, but satirists can take... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians, are often the subject of... read full definition
Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians... read full definition
Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—Lady Bertram:

Like her sister Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram is a character through whom Austen satirizes the wealthy aristocratic class. Lady Bertram is not cruel to Fanny the way that Mrs. Norris is, but embodies another element of the upper classes that Austen playfully mocks: laziness (and, relatedly, frivolousness). Lady Bertram’s satirical nature becomes clear at the start of the novel when the narrator introduces her to readers:

To the education of her daughters, Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting nicely dressed on a sofa, doing some long piece of needle-work, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter, when it did not put herself to inconvenience.

In the passage, the narrator not-so-subtly mocks Lady Bertram for how little she actually contributes to the family, noting how she is more interested in her dog than her children. Even when Lady Bertram puts time into something—needlework—it is “of little use and no beauty.” This extreme language shows how Lady Bertram is more of a humorous caricature of a wealthy wife of an aristocrat than a well-rounded character. It is noteworthy that Lady Bertram does not come from the type of wealth that she married into—this is one way that Austen highlights the moral consequences of marrying into wealth.

Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Tom Bertram:

Austen chooses to present Fanny’s cousin Tom as an exaggerated character whose only interests (for much of the novel) are gambling, drinking, and partying. With Tom, Austen is satirizing the entitled first-born sons of wealthy aristocrats who know that their inheritance will protect them from the effects of their actions.

Austen makes it very clear that Tom thinks about no one but himself, as evidenced by this narrational peek into Tom’s mind when his father is lambasting him for his gambling debts:

Tom listened with some shame and some sorrow; but escaping as quickly as possible, could soon with cheerful selfishness reflect, lst, that he had not been half so much in debt as some of his friends; 2dly, that his father had made a most tiresome piece of work of it; and 3dly, that the future incumbent, whoever he might be, would, in all probability, die very soon.

This moment is clearly meant to be humorous—Tom reflects “with cheerfulness” that at least he isn’t as much of a gambling addict as some of his wealthy friends and, even more absurdly, that the person who inherits the house that was supposed to go to his brother (but that had to be sold to pay off Tom’s debts) would “in all probability, die very soon.” Here is a character who clearly has no concern for anyone and cares not at all about the consequences of his actions.

While Austen is using Tom to satirize wealthy young male inheritors, she is also satirizing the inheritance system itself, highlighting how ridiculous it is that ungrateful and self-centered people like Tom are guaranteed wealth just because of their rank in the birth order. Edmund, unlike Tom, is extremely moral and well-mannered, yet inherits nothing simply because he is the second son. Via Tom, Austen is raising questions about why the inheritance system works the way it does, suggesting that a meritocratic system might be a better option.

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Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Dr. Grant:

With the character of Dr. Grant, Austen is satirizing hypocritical clergymen who care more for luxury and overindulgence than for morality and piety (a critique that was common in her day). As Austen has the character Mary note in conversation with the Bertrams, Dr. Grant’s primary fixation is on decadent meals prepared by his wife:

And though Dr. Grant is most kind and obliging to me, and though he is really a gentleman, and I dare say a good scholar and clever, and often preaches good sermons, and is very respectable, I see him to be an indolent selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in every thing, who will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one, and who, moreover, if the cook makes a blunder, is out of humour with his excellent wife. To own the truth, Henry and I were partly driven out this very evening, by a disappointment about a green goose, which he could not get the better of. My poor sister was forced to stay and bear it.

Mary’s description of Dr. Grant shows that she is hesitant to criticize him because he is “a gentleman” and “a good scholar,” yet she can’t help but call out his position as “an indolent selfish bon vivant” who “will not stir a finger for the convenience of any one.” Mary’s characterization of Dr. Grant—along with his lack of nuanced presence in the novel—shows that he is a stand-in for hypocritical preachers.

The way that Dr. Grant dies later in the novel also highlights the satire inherent to his character; he “brought on apoplexy and death, by three great institutionary dinners in one week.” He dies from his gluttony, a truly satirical twist.

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Chapter 15
Explanation and Analysis—Mrs. Norris:

Mrs. Norris is an exaggerated character Austen uses for satirical effect; her non-stop mistreatment of Fanny simply because of her class background turns her into a stand-in for classist wealthy aristocrats more broadly. Mrs. Norris doesn’t merely look down on Fanny, but terrorizes and criticizes her any chance she gets. This becomes especially clear when Mrs. Norris tries to force Fanny to participate in the production of Lovers’ Vows:

“Do not urge her, madam,” said Edmund. “It is not fair to urge her in this manner.—You see she does not like to act.”


“I am not going to urge her,”—replied Mrs. Norris sharply, “but I shall think her a very obstinate, ungrateful girl, if she does not do what her aunt and cousins wish her—very ungrateful indeed, considering who and what she is.”

The quote shows how Mrs. Norris’s hatred of Fanny is deeply connected to Fanny’s class position, which is implied in the language of “who and what she is.” This passage is also notable in that Mrs. Norris is criticizing Fanny for being “obstinate”—or acting without manners—by refusing to participate in the Lovers’ Vows play when, in reality, Fanny is declining because she sees it as bad manners to participate in such a salacious production.

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