Easter in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

The climax of Jane Austen’s third novel, Mansfield Park, revolves around Easter.

First, the heroine, Fanny Price, suffers because of the holiday. She cannot return “home” to Mansfield Park and her loved ones among the Bertrams until her Uncle Bertram says so, and she was told that he wouldn’t send for her until after Easter at the earliest. Nonetheless, Easter went by and still her uncle had sent no word of when he would rescue Fanny from her natal kinfolk in Portsmouth, to her great distress.

Easter came particularly late this year, as Fanny had most sorrowfully considered, on first learning that she had no chance of leaving Portsmouth till after it. It came, and she had yet heard nothing of her return–nothing even of the going to London, which was to precede her return. Her aunt often expressed a wish for her, but there was no notice, no message from the uncle on whom all depended. She supposed he could not yet leave his son, but it was a cruel, a terrible delay to her. The end of April was coming on; it would soon be almost three months, instead of two, that she had been absent from them all, and that her days had been passing in a state of penance, which she loved them too well to hope they would thoroughly understand; and who could yet say when there might be leisure to think of or fetch her?

Secondly, the man Fanny loved, her cousin Edmund Bertram, was trying to propose marriage to another woman, Mary Crawford, and couldn’t decided if he would do it in person by going down to London after Easter or if he would write to his intended sooner or if he would wait until Mary returned to Mansfield Parsonage in June. He wrote:

I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife. If I did not believe that she had some regard for me, of course I should not say this, but I do believe it. I am convinced that she is not without a decided preference. I have no jealousy of any individual. It is the influence of the fashionable world altogether that I am jealous of. It is the habits of wealth that I fear … I cannot give her up … Were I refused, I must bear it; and till I am, I can never cease to try for her. This is the truth. The only question is how? What may be the likeliest means? I have sometimes thought of going to London again after Easter, and sometimes resolved on doing nothing till she returns to Mansfield. Even now, she speaks with pleasure of being in Mansfield in June; but June is at a great distance, and I believe I shall write to her. I have nearly determined on explaining myself by letter. To be at an early certainty is a material object. My present state is miserably irksome. Considering everything, I think a letter will be decidedly the best method of explanation. I shall be able to write much that I could not say, and shall be giving her time for reflection before she resolves on her answer, and I am less afraid of the result of reflection than of an immediate hasty impulse; I think I am. My greatest danger would lie in her consulting Mrs. Fraser, and I at a distance unable to help my own cause. A letter exposes to all the evil of consultation, and where the mind is anything short of perfect decision, an adviser may, in an unlucky moment, lead it to do what it may afterwards regret. I must think this matter over a little.

Finally, Henry Crawford would ruin Maria Bertram Rushworth’s life and cut up his own happiness for almost a decade when he decided to go to Twickenham to trifle with his former flirtation instead of onward to his estate in Norfolk as he should have.

Mrs. Rushworth had gone, for the Easter holidays, to Twickenham, with a family whom she had just grown intimate with: a family of lively, agreeable manners, and probably of morals and discretion to suit, for to their house Mr. Crawford had constant access at all times … Mr. Rushworth had been gone at this time to Bath, to pass a few days with his mother, and bring her back to town, and Maria was with these friends without any restraint … Very soon after the Rushworths’ return to Wimpole Street, Sir Thomas had received a letter from an old and most particular friend in London, who hearing and witnessing a good deal to alarm him in that quarter, wrote to recommend Sir Thomas’s coming to London himself, and using his influence with his daughter to put an end to the intimacy which was already exposing her to unpleasant remarks, and evidently making Mr. Rushworth uneasy … it was followed by another, sent express from the same friend, to break to him the almost desperate situation in which affairs then stood with the young people. Mrs. Rushworth had left her husband’s house: Mr. Rushworth had been in great anger and distress to him (Mr. Harding) for his advice; Mr. Harding feared there had been at least very flagrant indiscretion … Mrs. Rushworth did not appear again, and there was every reason to conclude her to be concealed somewhere with Mr. Crawford, who had quitted his uncle’s house, as for a journey, on the very day of her absenting herself.

All the disparate plot points came together after Easter, as a result of activities during Easter. Edmund went to say farewell to Mary forever and *gasp* Mary had the audacity to suggest that if Henry could be persuaded to wed Maria, then Maria would not be left to eternal social damnation. The fact Mary didn’t faint from the sheer horror over Maria and Henry’s SINFULNESS revealed to Edmund that his amour had a corrupted, vitiated mind lacking in feminine delicacy and loathing of sexual immorality. Repulsed by Mary’s dearth of shock regarding a rather commonplace scandal, Edmund turned to Fanny for consolation and soon thereafter married his properly judgmental and sanctimonious cousin.  One can only assume they lived happily ever after in a glory of a sexless marriage.

I disliked Edmund and Fanny’s condemnation of Mary’s practical solution to the scandalous elopement. Thus, I wrote an entire book just to allow Mary Crawford to give Edmund a savage dressing down for his presumption in lecturing her, even if it was only in the privacy of Mary’s internal fuming.

 

I also included several “Easter Eggs” in my retelling of Mansfield Park, in that references to other characters in other Austen novels are sprinkled throughout the chapters. If you’ve read the book, how many did you notice? Were there any you particularly liked?

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