In Mansfield Park it can be argued that Fanny is bullied at various times especially by Mrs Norris but one particular instance that illustrates her being bullied by everyone is when she is requested to take part in the Mansfield theatricals.
“ Fanny,” cried Tom Bertram form the other table, where the conference was eagerly carrying on, and the conversation incessant, “we want your services.”
Fanny was up in a moment, expecting some errand, for the habit of employing her in that way was not yet overcome, in spite of all that Edmund could do.
“Oh!” we do not want to disturb you from your seat. We do not want your present services. We shall only want you in our play. You must be Cottager’s wife.”
“Me!” cried Fanny, sitting down again with a most frightened look.” Indeed you must excuse me. I could not act any thing if you were to give me the world. No, indeed I cannot act.”
“Indeed but you must, for cannot excuse you. It need not frighten you; it is a nothing part, a mere nothing, not above half a dozen speeches altogether, and it will not much signify if nobody hears a word you say, so you may be as creepmouse as you like, but we must have you to look at.”
So what is bullying? What is the profile of somebody who is bullied? What is the profile of a bully? Do the characters in Mansfield Park fit these criteria and how should bullying be dealt with?
As a teacher I have had to deal with cases of bullying. I would characterise bullying as making somebody feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, afraid, isolated and lonely.
What we have in English schools is a bullying policy. We have policies for each subject and for each area that touches on school life as well. A policy sets out a strategy. How are we going to deal with this area of school life? What steps to success are we going to put into practice?
With bullying somebody feels vulnerable. The first thing is talking. Very often it can be to another child who is sensitive to the bullied persons predicament. It could be the teacher noticing that a child is unhappy. Something has to trigger a response. The child needs to be encouraged to talk to their teacher, a school helper they feel confident with and to their mums and dads. All need to be aware of the problem. If another child is intimidating them we need to investigate that child. First of all an interview with that child to ask what they think is going on. They need to be aware of the feelings of the person they are bullying.
A teacher might use a PHSE lesson ( personal, health and social education) to discuss and explore in different ways a fictitious scenario similar to the bullied child’s problem. Roll play, hot seating, groups creating class steps to success that can be displayed for all to see. A buddy system can be set up whereby a child who feels they have no friends can go to a designated “buddy” and it will be the buddies job to talk to them, sit with them for a while and include them into their games.
But what are the pointers to someone who is a candidate for bullying. Somebody who is in an environment they are not used to. It could be somebody arriving at a new school who has no friends and they are a little shy. It could be somebody who is a slow learner and doesn’t succeed very well in the eyes of the other children. It could be somebody who lacks confidence and finds it difficult to join in.
The bully themselves are in need of help just as much as the person bullied. There must be a reason for wanting to make another child’s life miserable. They could be ignored at home, they could come from an abusive background and the hurt they bring to others helps them feel better and more in control.They could feel undervalued by the people who really should care for them.
You can probably tell where I am leading to with Fanny Price. She fits snugly into the scenario of the bullied person. I am not going to labour a point.
Mansfield Park, apart from being the story of a house and an estate is the story of somebody who is demeaned, treated badly and dare I say bullied by the likes of Mrs Norris, who is perhaps the most blatant bully, Tom Bertram, Maria and Julia Bertram and Henry and Maria Crawford. The story is about Fanny’s gradual and often painful growth into belief, confidence and power. I would like to add Edmund to the list of bullies in Fanny’s life though. Edmund is Fanny’s protector, he stands up for her, he tries to make her life tolerable. He is the one person Fanny can talk to and he listens and tries to act most times on her behalf for her good . He however does not always try to act in her favour. Those who stand and watch the bully and do nothing are as much to blame and by their inaction condone the bullying. There is at least one instance of Edmund doing this.
“You must excuse me, indeed you must excuse me,” cried Fanny, growing more and more red from excessive agitation, and looking distressfully at Edmund, who was kindly observing her, but unwilling to exasperate his brother by interference, gave her only an encouraging smile.”Not only did Edmund do nothing to help, perhaps by his inaction the others were encouraged to join in the bullying too. If Edmund had acted it might have been at this point that their plans for the play may have come to an end. But Edmund did nothing. And so:
“ Her entreaty had no effect on Tom; he only said again what he had said before; and it was not merely Tom, for the requisition was now backed by Maria and Mr Crawford, and Mr Yates, with an urgency which differed from his , but in being more gentle and ceremonious and which altogether was quite overpowering to Fanny; and before she could breath after it, Mrs Norris completed the whole………. “
Fanny reads along with Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park 1983
So why is Tom Bertram a bully? His father Sir Thomas, is a cold emotionless person. Tom is brought up to be the heir to the esteta so he has importance a future power to look foreward to but this is nothing to him with the lack of affection he has been brought up with. He is a damaged person. His sisters Maria and Julia have overt bullying schooled out of them. They are perfect in their manners. They are superficial they lack warmth and emotional depth.
Mrs Norris is somebody who craves for the importance she will never have. She has a great gaping hole that lacks warmth and love because she can never have what she wants. She is a totally selfish person.
Henry and Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park 1999
Henry and Mary Crawford have admiral Crawford to blame. They possess wealth and property but never have they had love. They are lost souls craving for affection on their own debauched terms.
Edmund is a conundrum. He has the same parentage as Tom and Maria and Julia but he is somehow different. He appears to have sensitivity towards others on the whole although he is not perfect and a capacity to love. Looking at his position within the family, second son, not destined for greatness, the pressures of being the heir not on his shoulders, perhaps he has been left alone and not bothered.He has been able to follow his heart. Maybe this is the answer to why Edmund is who he is.
Fanny is lucky enough to have an escape, a bolt hole. Apart from her own ,”white attic,” which was rather small, she uses the old school room where she collects her own private belongings and books that have sentimental attachments and memories.
But how could Jane Austen be so sensitive to the workings of the bullied and the bully? She must have had experience.
Claire Tomlin in her renowned, Jane Austen A Life, recounts how at the age of seven in 1784, Jane was sent to boarding school, first in Oxford and later removed Southampton. She went to a Mrs Cawley.
“To a seven year old who has never thought about time before, a term stretches, like a limitless desert ahead and the sense of loss and powerlessness on finding yourself cut off from home, parents, brothers and familiar faces and familiar places can turn the world into a very bleak place indeed.”Claire Tomlin quotes Jane when she hears that two nieces of hers have been sent to boarding school.
“One’s heart aches for the dejected mind of an eight year old.”
Tomlin goes on to describe some of these establishments where children were starved and some died of diseases like measles. She is not suggesting Jane experienced this degree of harshness when she was sent away, but her experience would not have been pleasant at such an early age.
Posted by Tony Grant, London Calling