Persuasions #2, 1980 Pages 28-29
SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS IN MANSFIELD PARK
by J. David Grey
Sibling relationships in Mansfield Park, as in life then or now, take five major forms and demonstrate still another instance where Jane Austen utilizes and transforms relationships she had observed.
It would be a vain endeavor to attempt tracing the originals from among the large number of families related to her or open to her observation and analysis. We see no graphic depiction of Eliza de Feuillide in Mary Crawford; no prototype of Mrs. Norris in the little we know of Jane Leigh-Perrot – Jane Austen’s cousin (later sister-in-law) and aunt, respectively. But the deft hand that transmogrified familial/social contacts into historically accurate personages must have been unconsciously guided by experience. The genius lies in the synthesis and translation.
In Mansfield Park the Bertram sisters show no interest in their brothers nor they in them. Edmund and Tom Bertram, furthermore, have few dealings with each other. Tom is not in the least mindful of the injury he has inflicted on his brother by his extravagant ways, as his father points out to him. On the other hand, Edmund, if not out of fraternal feelings at least owing to religious avocation, is indeed concerned about Tom when the latter falls gravely ill. Lady Bertram shows no strong sisterly attachment to Mrs. Norris except as the latter is useful to her. And she all but has to be reminded of Mrs. Price’s existence.
Mrs. Grant displays a proper amount of familial responsibility by offering her half-sister a home free from the meretricious aspects of the Admiral’s menage. Mary Crawford plays the role of older sister towards Henry. But she attempts no rehabilitation and hardly discourages him from his unworthy designs on Fanny. She tacitly supports his flirtations with one Bertram sister who is already engaged and turns a blind eye on its impact on the other.
The most dramatic instances of sibling “caring” are exemplified by Fanny’s sisterly love for William, her sorrow over being separated from the younger Price children for whom she has been a surrogate mother, and her careful orientation of Susan to the ways and manners of the Bertram household.
The term “sibling rivalry” was not available in Jane Austen’s era but it is certainly portrayed in the struggles of Maria and Julia Bertram for Henry Crawford’s attentions, even affection, and the quarrel between Fanny’s youngest sisters for their deceased sister’s knife.