Quoting Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ The Issue of Slavery and the Slave Trade


Over at Sarah Emsley’s blog tomorrow, I will be posting some thoughts on Mansfield Park and the issue of slavery by looking at Sir Thomas’s sentiments on the subject.  [This is now posted at Sarah’s blog: Jane Austen’s “dead silence” – or, How Guilty is Sir Thomas Bertram?]. Jane Austen gives us little to go on and there has been much conjecture as to Sir Thomas’s guilt as a slaver, as well as to Austen’s own sentiments about slavery and the slave trade.  As a starting place, we must begin with the text itself, and I compile here all the references to the slave trade, slavery, Antigua and the West Indies. Let me know if I have missed any – and please share your thoughts on what Austen may have been saying to her readers about slavery, a hotly-debated topic at the time of her writing Mansfield Park. Why does she introduce it into this novel?

[I include here a link to: “A Bibliography on Mansfield Park and the Issue of Slavery”: Bibliography – Mansfield Park and Slavery – Barnum ]



Mansfield Park and Slavery:  specific references to the Slave Trade, Slavery, Antigua.

[Note: citations are to Chapman]


1. …as his [Sir Thomas’s] own circumstances were rendered less fair than heretofore, by some recent losses on his West India Estate. [Narrator, 24]

2. “Why, you know Sir Thomas’s means will be rather straitened, if the Antigua estate is to make such poor returns.” [Mrs. Norris to Lady Bertram who responds “Oh! that will soon be settled. Sir Thomas has been writing about it, I know.” 30.]


“Planting the sugar cane”


3.  Sir Thomas found it expedient to go to Antigua himself, for the better arrangement of his affairs… probability of being nearly a twelvemonth absent. [Narrator, 32]

4. …the travellers’ safe arrival in Antigua after a favourable voyage. [Narrator, 34: with an account of Mrs. Norris’ hysteria.]


Map of Antigua (source: Gregson Davis article:
http://www.open.uwi.edu/sites/default/files/bnccde/antigua/conference/papers/davis.html )

5. …unfavorable circumstances has suddenly arisen at a moment when he was beginning to turn all his thoughts towards England, and the very great uncertainly in which every thing was then involved… [Narrator, 38. Young Tom is sent home alone, Mrs. Norris’s hysterics again of “foreboding evil” and “dreadful sentiments.”]

6. Letters from Antigua… his business was so nearly concluded as to justify him in [returning home by November]… [Narrator, 107.]

 7. “…such an absence not only long, but including so many dangers.” [Edmund on his father in Antigua, to Mary Crawford, 108.]

 8.  Sir Thomas was to return in November, and his eldest son had duties to call him earlier home. [Narrator, 114.]

9.  “It would show a great want of feeling on my father’s account, absent as he is, and in some degree of constant danger….” [Edmund to all on acting, 125.] – and Tom responds [one of Austen’s funnier moments]: “.. for the expectation of his return must be a very anxious period to my mother… it is a very anxious period for her.” [Tom, 126.] – “…each looked towards their mother… just falling into a gentle doze…” !

10. “…I have been slaving myself till I can hardly stand…” [Mrs. Norris to Fanny, 166.]


Mrs. Norris by H. M. Brock [Mollands]

 11. …he was grown thinner and had the burnt, fagged, worn look of fatigue and a hot climate… [Narrator giving us Fanny’s thoughts on first seeing Sir Thomas, 178.]

 12.  His business in Antigua had latterly been prosperously rapid, and he came directly from Liverpool… [Narrator recounting Sir Thomas’ travel, 1787.]

13. …the alarm of a French privateer… [Narrator continuing Sir Thomas’ telling of his travels – such a vessel would have been armed, 180.]


 [East Indiaman HMS Kent battling Confiance, a privateer vessel commanded by French corsair Robert Surcouf in October 1800, as depicted in a painting by Ambroise Louis Garneray – Wikipedia]

14. “I love to hear my uncle talk of the West Indies. I could listen to him for an hour together…” [Fanny to Edmund, 197.]

15. “But I do talk to him more that is used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?”  [Fanny to Edmund, 198.]

“I did – and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.” [Edmund to Fanny]

“And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like – I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by shewing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel.” [Fanny, 198. Edmund you will notice proceeds to only talk of Mary Crawford…]


Slave ship diagram-1790-wikipedia

16. “…He [Edmund] knows that human nature needs more lessons that a weekly sermon can convey, and that if he does not live among his parishioners and prove himself by constant attention their well-wisher and friend, he does very little either for their good or his own.” [Sir Thomas to Henry Crawford and Edmund, 198.]

17. Sir Thomas …prolonged the conversation on dancing in general, and was so well engaged describing the balls of Antigua… [Narrator, 251.]


Sir Thomas talking with William and Fanny, by C. E. Brock [Mollands]

18. ‘Advice’ was his word, but it was the advice of absolute power… shewing her persuadableness. [Narrator on Sir Thomas thoughts on sending Fanny to bed, 280.]


“Am I to understand,” said Sir Thomas, “that you mean to refuse Mr. Crawford?” ~ Vol. III, Ch. I [C. E.  Brock – Mollands]

 19.  The Narrator’s words describing Fanny’s feelings about a marriage to Henry: revolt, painful alarm, terror, formidable threat, sudden attack, misery, wretched feelings, aching heart, distressing evil. [Narrator, 357ff.]

20.  But he [Sir Thomas] was master at Mansfield Park. [Narrator, 370.]

 21. Henry Crawford as an absentee landlord at Everingham, with an “agent of some underhand dealing.” [Narrator on Fanny’s thoughts about Henry going to his estate, 404.]


Quotes from other works:

Emma: this very telling dialogue between Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton [Vol. II, Ch. 17, p. 300-01)


 Emma 1996– Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton
source: Austen Efforts blog

When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something — offices for the sale, not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect.”

    “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”

    “I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade,” replied Jane; “governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly, as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies.”


Persuasion: we have Captain Wentworth in the West Indies and Santa Domingo; Mrs. Croft in the East Indies and Bermuda and Bahama; Mrs. Smith has an Estate in the West Indies.


  “So wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do” ~ Vol. I, Ch. III – C. E. Brock [Mollands]


Sanditon: we have the wealthy Miss Lambe, a mulatto, briefly mentioned: “A Miss Lambe too! A young West Indian of large fortune…” – and whatever Jane Austen intended for her, we cannot know…

book cover - sanditon

Your thoughts?

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

4 thoughts on “Quoting Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ The Issue of Slavery and the Slave Trade

  1. Pingback: Jane Austen’s “dead silence,” or, How Guilty is Sir Thomas Bertram? | Sarah Emsley

  2. That certainly made me see the book in other perspective! I read it recently and found this subject only a scenery to the main history, I didn’t even recalled a clear reference to slave trade.


    • Yes, Heloisa, the references to the slave trade and its consequences are easy to miss – Jane Austen as always sly (but deft) with her references. So glad you read this and have now another reason to re-read Mansfield Park all over again.

      Thanks for stopping by…


  3. Pingback: Austen and Abolition | Austen Authors

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