I’ve long had a soft spot for Mansfield Park. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite Austen novel, but I always enjoy reading it. The last time I opened my well-thumbed volume of Mansfield Park was during lockdown, and what struck me is how prevalent the Seven Deadly Sins are in the novel.
As a good clergyman’s daughter, Jane Austen would have been well versed in such matters. It’s also a serious theme that suits the tone of the novel, more mature than previous works such as Pride & Prejudice.
So, after giving it some thought, here is my list of the characters that represent each of the seven sins in the novel:
Whether it’s due to his natural tendencies or his upbringing at the home of Admiral Crawford, “a man of vicious conduct” who brings “his mistress under his own roof”, Mr Crawford follows his whims, with little thought for any consequences. He gives false hopes to Julia and flirts (and worse) with engaged Maria, but quickly gets bored.
Mr Crawford lives for the thrill of the chase, hence his relentless pursuit of Fanny, but even in his infatuation he can’t help himself and rekindles his romance with Maria, eventually leading to her “matrimonial fracas” and ruining her life. Not that he cares…
Gluttony: Dr Grant
Dr Grant has an “attentive wife” and is a reasonably competent clergyman (at the Rushworths’’ wedding, “the service was impressively read by Dr. Grant”), but he only really thinks about one thing: his next meal.
A “indolent, selfish bon vivant, who must have his palate consulted in everything”, he lives for his food, be it a sandwich tray, an apricot tart or a juicy pheasant or turkey. He ends up paying a price for his gluttony when his gouty symptoms force him to go to Bath for medicinal purposes.
Mrs. Norris isn’t exactly a charitable soul. Incapable of feeling any kind of empathy, she treats Fanny and those she considers her inferiors with contempt. Above all, she is a very avaricious woman. There’s nothing that Mrs. Norris enjoys more than getting her rich Mansfield Park relatives to spend money for her benefit.
From getting Sir Thomas to shoulder the financial burden of raising Fanny, to the famous green baize for the theatre curtain that eventually ends up in her cottage, she is driven by greed and utter selfishness, and is one of Austen’s best baddies.
Pride: Maria Bertram
Raised in all comforts and spoilt by Aunt Norris, the eldest Bertram girl is proud of her good looks, her accomplishments, and her wealthy fiancé (Mr Rushworth has £12,000 a year, £2,000 more than Mr Darcy!). But this pride also makes her an easy prey for Mr Crawford. After much flirting (and more), she is left feeling like a fool.
Even Sir Thomas senses that something is wrong with her engaged with Mr Rushworth, but she is so proud that she would rather go ahead with a wedding to a man she despises than admit that her father is right. She will make the same mistake again after her marriage, with the same man – only the stakes will be much higher for her then.
Lady Bertram is indolent at best. Sitting on her sofa, snoozing, with pug on her lap, she has zero interest in the running of her household or her children’s education, and her husband and sister indulge her. In Miss Price’s Decision I give a medical reason for her lethargy (hypothyroidism, a condition I suffered for years), which also suits my plot.
However, in the original novel Lady Bertram is simply lazy, and the consequences of her lack of interest and willingness to put in the work are terrible for the family.
Envy: Julia Bertram
In the shadow of Maria we find Julia, by all accounts a lovely girl, but always second best. Maria is “in general thought the handsomest” and is engaged to a rich man with a large country estate, a house in town and a substantial fortune. That would give most people enough reasons for sibling rivalry, but when Mr Crawford enters the scene, Julia’s envy seriously kicks off. Although she is the single Bertram sister, he ignores her and focuses his attention on Maria.
During the theatricals, you can almost feel the stabs of envy every time she sees her sister and Mr Crawford together… Thankfully, she manages to move on (and in Miss Price’s Decision I portray her life as newly married Mrs Yates!).
I was initially going to nominate Sir Thomas as the wrath representative in Mansfield Park, but I think this would be unjust. When he unexpectedly returns from the West Indies to find his children (including his engaged eldest daughter) indulging in theatricals, he doesn’t lose his temper. The same can be said when Fanny refuses Mr Crawford. Instead, he reacts with cold rationality. Is his ire worthy of being considered a sin?
On the other hand, plenty of other characters show unwarranted anger during the story, from Aunt Norris to Mary Crawford, from the Bertram sisters to Mr Price – even Fanny admits to feeling enraged on a few occasions.
So what do you think?
Who is the best character representing the deadly sin of Wrath in Mansfield Park? And in which other ways do you think the other deadly sins are reflected in the novel?