The latest addition to my literature website is Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. It is the most serious of her novels, containing little of the comic flair found in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. The heroine of the story, Fanny Price, is quiet and withdrawn, largely separated from those around her by the lower social status of the family from which she comes and the strong moral principles she clings to despite contrary influences. In this way, she is similar to the title character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The novel also represents Austen’s most direct treatment of Christianity, the Established Church, and the clergy of her day. Fanny, and to some extent Edmund Bertram, stand out as genuine Christians in a society filled with those who profess Christianity because of their cultural environment but rarely practice it. Furthermore, Edmund both defends the true calling of a minister and lives it out despite the powerful arguments and temptations placed before him by the worldly Mary Crawford. We thus find in Mansfield Park the clearest picture of the brand of Christianity in which Jane Austen was raised by her father, an Anglican rector, and which she personally espoused. The story, though set in a society in many ways very different from ours, has great relevance when so many around us profess Christianity while denying it by the lives they live.
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