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Monday, June 28


I have been a teacher for 33 years and although I am now retired I still do some teaching when I want to. Bullying has always been an issue that is dealt with by all teachers, and sadly these days more and more regularly.

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


Vic said...

Yes, bullying is exactly what goes on in Mansfield Park. Perhaps that is why I find the theatrical scenes so distasteful and why this novel never quite captured my heart. Fanny does an admiral job in fending the bullies off, but their behavior does explain why, despite her strong will, she seems to timid and quiet.

Cranberry Morning said...

I've read Emma, S&S, P&P, and Persuasion. This motivates me to pick up Mansfield Park, the book. I cannot watch Jane Austen as seen through the lens of Dr. Who. It just doesn't work for me.

Steph said...

This is the only book of Jane's for which I have no love for any of the characters, including her heroine Fanny and her "hero" Edmund. She has my deep sympathy, because she is timid by nature and has been conditioned to believe she is nothing, her place is at the very bottom rung of the family she belongs to. She's been beaten down emotionally over and over and over, with only one person she can turn to for true affection. Considering that kind of home life and upbringing, it's not surprising she remained so very timid, and admirable that she was able to maintain her principles to the degree she was. Her cousins, even Edmund in certain circumstances, are all selfish, cold, shallow, arrogant elitists who have been raised to believe they are the most important people in the world, while at the same time receiving no true affection from any of their family members. Each one is pitted against the other by their Aunt Norris at various times, so they have always competed for approval, but it's the approval of the most shallow and bitter person in the family. They are altogether a reprehensible bunch, without an ounce of real character. And I can't like Fanny because she is a complete doormat, even when she knows she's being treated horribly. I want to like her, and I completely sympathize with her situation and understand why she's turned out the way she has, but still I can't like her. She's always trembling and crying and shrinking from something. And the fact that her cousin Edmund occasionally joined in pressuring her to do things that went against her principles, even though he should have been the one defending her and propping her up at all times, combined with the fact that she persisted in loving him so much despite his total lack of judgement regarding the Crawfords always irritates me. The charms of the woman he falls for completely blinds him to her lack of character and selfishness and leads him to treat Fanny the same way the rest of the family treats her, though to a lesser degree. Ughhh! It's just not my favorite book by Jane. But it is a brilliant illustration of the dangers of raising children without true affection, empathy for their fellow beings, and moral grounding, as well as of the classic characteristics of bullies and victims. Sorry for the long long post!

Southerner said...

Yes Steph, I agree with you in many ways. Mansfield Park read especially in the 18th century was an attack against suprficila morality. It must have pricked a few consciences then.

I do admit Fanny price is a little on the ineffectual side and the reader feels like telling her to stand up for herself, have bit more spunk. Perhaps Jane Austen was trying to use a stylised exagerated character, in the form of Fanny, to make a point about the social mores of the time.

Nonna Beach said...

It is exactly Fanny's timid character that Austen uses to inflame and upset the reader about the issues of her day.Because Fanny has no social position and no money, she is powerless to change things for the better. Her rich relatives are exasperating in their insipidness and arrogance. I believe it is a commentary on the spoiled, titled rich of the past and maybe the present too ( among many other themes I recognized and enjoyed reading about through Jane's eyes )in Mansfield Park.

Lynn said...

I think this is fascinating - like many other people who commented, I find Mansfield Park Jane's 'problem child', and both Edmund and Fanny difficult to warm to. In fact, I've always felt there was quite another novel in there, trying to get out, and 'unearthing' that was one of the things I was trying to do in the first half of Murder at Mansfield Park. I used the same characters and episodes, but with a different twist, and a different perspective each time. And when you try to do something like that you get a new insight into what's really going on in the original. For a writer, literary ventriloquism has a lot to be said for it, and hopefully you can offer something new to the reader as well.