Humor in Mansfield Park, by Corrie Garrett

Humor in Mansfield Park, by Corrie Garrett

Why do we want humor?

Lately I’ve been trying to purposely learn how to inject more humor into my writing. I’m working on From London with Loyalty, the sequel to From Highbury with Love, and I want it to be funny. I love humor, and that’s definitely what makes some books compulsively re-readable for me. Movies and shows too! Most of my favorite shows that I’ve stuck with to the end and then re-watched eventually–Parks & Rec, Monk, Psych, 30 Rock, The Good Place, etc.– are so funny! I also enjoy dramas like The Expanse or The 100, but I don’t want to re-watch them. Drama moves us, but humor brings us back!

Mansfield Park

Sometimes I manage a witty conversation between two characters or a funny comment, but it’s not easy! How did Jane Austen manage to be so consistently funny? The arrogant characters are funny, the humble characters are funny, even the good-natured ones! Her narrator voice is hands-down hilarious. So, I’m going to pull out some of my favorite quotes from her different books, and see if I can pull out some humor tips for writing. Or at least classify what she does! Humor in general has to do with giving surprise, with pointing out the absurd, or exaggeration. I know people have analyzed Jane Austen’s irony and wit to death, but we all need a laugh anyway, right? Onward!

I tried to stack them in a sort of progressive order…

“Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The Humorous complaint, mixed with anthropomorphism of the watch.

Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The Exaggeration, mixed with contradiction, since selfishness is one of the hardest things to forgive

“Fanny! You are killing me!”

“No man dies of love but on the stage, Mr. Crawford.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

And now, the Humorous, Exaggerated complaint caught up short by an unexpected rebuttal!

“[N]obody minds having what is too good for them.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

She has a lot like this, which can (in modern terms) be called a truth bomb! Human nature summed up in 10 words or less!

“If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The Contradiction, juxtaposing opinion, intelligence and wealth

“I am very strong. Nothing ever fatigues me, but doing what I do not like.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The Boast, mixed with the contradiction. This falls under a larger umbrella, which I mentally call, “Characters being more and more of themselves. If they are proud, let them be ridiculous in their proudness, if they are lazy, let them be ridiculous in their laziness.

“The enthusiasm of a woman’s love is even beyond the biographer’s.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The Exaggeration, and just an excellent analogy, assuming that a biographer has got to be fascinated by their subject!

“I do not pretend to set people right, but I do see that they are often wrong.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

The “I do not… but I do…” contradiction. I stumbled across another example of this in her letters, “I will not say your mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.” Lol! She sets out the contradiction as if it isn’t a contradiction, but lets the reader follow it through.

And, last but not least, this gem:

“Maria was married on Saturday. In all important preparations of mind she was complete, being prepared for matrimony by a hatred of home, by the misery of disappointed affection, and contempt of the man she was to marry. The bride was elegantly dressed and the two bridesmaids were duly inferior. Her mother stood with salts, expecting to be agitated, and her aunt tried to cry. Marriage is indeed a maneuvering business.”
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

This wonderfully subverts all expectations of preparing for marriage! It contains the Contradiction and the Exaggeration like the others, and then just the magnificent description of a wedding day using the key words hatred, misery, contempt, inferior, agitated, and manuevering. What’s not to love?

How would you describe Jane Austen’s humor? Which of these quotes (or ones I missed) are your favorite?

Thanks for reading,



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June 24, 2021 7:51 PM

I agree completely with what you said about humor. Thanks for sharing.

June 16, 2021 3:05 AM

Great post. Of the examples you pointed out, my favorite was, “If this man had not twelve thousand a year, he would be a very stupid fellow.” I love the sarcasm—pretending that the wealth has fixed the flaw rather than compensated for it. Especially because sometimes the characters are not actually beIng sarcastic. I don’t know the context for this one. Maybe it’s straight sarcasm. If not, Austen has demonstrated the speaker’s affection for money and their ability to be blind to their own greed. They don’t admit that they care about money enough to overlook the character flaw, rather they deny the flaw now exists—thus showing their lack of self-awareness as well as the absurdity that money can purchase intelligence. Either way… very witty.

Lisa Alden
Lisa Alden
June 12, 2021 4:57 PM

Austen’s wit is sometimes so subtle and dry that its easily missed -occasionally- the first reading of one of her novels.

Gianna Thomas
June 11, 2021 5:11 PM

Thank you for an enjoyable post, Corrie. I’ve only read Pride and Prejudice, but it looks like I should read Mansfield Park as well. Many of Jane Austen’s letters are hilarious. The things she wrote to Cassandra had me rolling in the floor laughing.

‘At the bottom of Kingsdown Hill we met a gentleman in a buggy, who, on a minute examination, turned out to be Dr. Hall—and Dr. Hall in such very deep mourning that either his mother, his wife, or himself must be dead.’

‘You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.’

‘Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret and only known to half the neighborhood, you must not mention it.’

Even family didn’t escape her witty tongue.

‘I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.’

Gianna Thomas
June 13, 2021 1:53 AM
Reply to  Corrie

Corrie, I found the book that has lots of Jane’s letters and some of the funny things she wrote about. It’s ‘My Dear Cassandra’ Jane Austen, letters to her sister selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett. Enjoy!

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
June 11, 2021 10:49 AM

What an interesting post. I love Austen’s humor. Many of her characters are all goodness at heart but can be exasperating at the same time. Sir John Middleton and Mrs. Jennings are a good example. Their teasing Elinor over ‘F major’ was funny as you watched their humor over their own gag. Mrs. Jennings wanted to help Marianne’s broken heart by tempting her with food. She asked Elinor if she liked olives. That always made me laugh. Then the bruhaha caused by Fanny Dashwood when she found out Lucy Steele was engaged to Edward. The movie did it best when she pinched her nose and pushed her out of the house. In the next scene we have Mrs. Jennings rushing down the street to get to her home with the news. That is just one story. I laugh so many times with Austen’s humor. Don’t even get me started on Mr. Bennet. Blessings, and thanks for my giggle this morning.

June 10, 2021 1:15 PM

Oh Corrie, I loved this post! Thanks for the morning giggle!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
June 10, 2021 7:10 AM

I would say Jane has a dry humor and a lot of fun and wit!

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