So I was trying to figure out how to review the beginning of Mansfield Park as it is a little different from her other books. It is more like Sense and Sensibility with a bit of a backstory on the three sisters, Fanny’s mom and aunts.
The more I thought of it, the more it made me think of a fairy tale opening, I mean you have three sisters that only one marries well-it kind of made me think of the folktale The Three Sisters, Cinderella, One Eyes, Two Eyes, and Three Eyes, etc. So that is how I am going to treat this-like a fairy tale.
Our story starts many years ago (thirty to be exact): Once upon a time there were three beautiful girls: a Miss Ward, a Miss Maria Ward, and a Miss Frances Ward. These ladies were lovely, but unfortunately:
The second sister married first, and had the extreme luck to catch the eye of a Baronet, Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park. The two married and she became Lady Maria Bertram.
Lady Bertram exalted in her success, a lady! Such an elevated status was a beautiful thing to behold!
Her family were in sweet felicitations over the event as well, especially her older and younger sister who hoped that such a marriage would also give them their own happily ever after. Unfortunately, this is not that type of story.
The other two of these sisters were so unlucky that nothing ever succeeded with them, the eldest, Miss Ward, after six years was finally able to win a husband, a Reverend Norris. He was friend of her brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Bertram, and having no fortune, Sir Thomas kindly bestowed the living and parsonage of Mansfield-so that this sister was cared for all her life.
The youngest sister, no less pretty, had the worse luck of all. She married a “lieutenant of marines, without education, fortune, or connexions[sic],” and became Mrs. Price.
Sir Thomas would have easily done all he could to have helped his brother-in-law (as pride made him wish all in connection to him were of an upstanding position), although his profession was something that he had no easy hand involved in.
But alas, before any such things could have been put into motion, a terrible and destructive row was set up betwixt the sisters. The eldest sister had a thorny heart and her temper was not easily assuaged. She immediately sent forth the most powerful soldier in her arsenal-an angry letter. Lady Bertram thought no longer of her sister-out of sight out of mind-except that Mrs. Price was spurned on by the missile and fired off one of her own.
And as it goes, the sisters were locked in bitterness and the bonds broken betwixt them.
Eleven years passed by and the Prices went further and further into poverty. The Prices had fallen into such poverty that Mrs. Price was faced with the decision of whether to swallow her pride or continue the separation.
Mrs. Price had lived a disheartening and dark life. “A large and still increasing family, an[sic] husband disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants…” With every passing day she grew more unsure what to do next, how to survive.
She became pregnant with her ninth child, and with this child was born a renewed hope, and she sent a missive to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, full of “contrition and despondence, such a superfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation.”
Mrs. Price hoped and prayed they would take one of her sons, any of them and raise them in a wonderful fashion. But instead the choose the eldest girl?
The eldest girl, Fanny, was a lovely and sweet-natured girl. Kind, humble, quiet. Mrs. Price was puzzled at first as why they choose her, but eagerly sent the child on her way.
The new child was quiet, scared, unsure. She would often tuck herself away in the chimney corner to sit quietly.
Her two eldest cousins, Tom and Edmund, were seventeen and sixteen. Tom, the eldest, ignored her, while Edmund looked upon her kindly as any sixteen year-old would look upon a ten year old. The two younger, female cousins were a different story. Maria, thirteen, and Julia, twelve, did everything that they could to make her unhappy. The poor girl, Fanny, bore everything patiently and dared not complain to any.
For more Fanny Price, go to Little Literary Classics Mansfield Park Cloth Book