People, Places, and Social Things

Mansfield Park is ripe with instances in which place names and physical locations are referenced and hold significant weight. One instance near the beginning places the two young Miss Bertrams in front of their aunt, Mrs. Norris, claiming, “She [Fanny] thinks nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world.” (Volume 1, Chapter 2). While the Isle of Wright is not a notable location in the novel, this scene illustrates Austen’s use of place names to act as proof in Mansfield Park. In this instance, Fanny being uneducated and fanciful regarding European geography reinforces, for the Misses Bertram, the idea that Fanny is unintelligent. Their treatment of Fanny seems to be hinting at Fanny’s function and rank in the family throughout the novel. She doesn’t possess the Bertram name and, therefore, isn’t part of the family in the same way that the children of Sir Thomas and Mrs. Bertram are. She is of less importance, which is further exemplified when Miss Crawford has to debate with the Mr. Bertrams about whether she is out or not. They have seem to have no clue because the same pains have not been taken to ensure toward a bountiful marriage and Fanny’s futurity as have been taken with their own sisters’. It is painfully apparent that Fanny’s life is simply not as important as that of the Bertram children. She is a charity case- which Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris explicitly mention when they decide to take on her wellbeing, education, and livelihood in the beginning of the novel- and the two girls referring to her as ignorant further exacerbates this image.

Another example of a name acting as proof occurs later, when “the White house” is used to reference the smaller home that Mrs. Norris chooses to take up following the death of her husband. The name of the location speaks to the size and income of the property, which is drastically reduced since the death of Mr. Norris. If it were larger, it would have been called something akin to a “manor” or “estate.” Austen’s direct references to places and their names appears to, at least in part, reinforce the social meanings and weight attached to them.

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1 thought on “People, Places, and Social Things”

  1. Manda,
    Thanks for this compelling and engaging blog entry on the place of place, so to speak, in MP! I love your close-reading of Mrs. Norris’ mentioning the Isle of Wight as if it were the only island in the world. As you note, her exclamation is a microcosm of her worldview. (Having just looked up the Isle of Wight, the reference to geography reminded me of the scene in S&S when Edward and Elinor, in an attempt to lure Margaret out of hiding, pretend not to know the location of the certain geography–the Volga river, I believe). Once again, it leads us back to the importance of naming so explicitly telegraphed in the novel’s title. And of course, there’s the place of Antigua and the British slave trade, something we’ll explore more in future classes…
    Happy reading & happy Spring Break!
    Best,
    Nora

    Like

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