As we continue to analyze Jane Austen’s novels and identify the best romantic tropes used in each one, we’re well on our way to proving that Austen not only used romantic themes ingeniously but also played an important role in developing several key plot devices that are regularly used in modern filmmaking today.
Last month, I wrote about Rom Coms and Emma. This month, I’m delving into Mansfield Park and finding the romantic themes found in the novel that are commonly found in romantic movies today.
Romantic Themes in Mansfield Park
In Mansfield Park, there are several themes that ring true as romantic tropes we’re familiar with today:
The Ugly Duckling-Turned-Swan (aka the “Make-over”)
Following this train of thought, we see Fanny Price blossom and come into her own in MP. Her transformation isn’t necessarily outward. She doesn’t exactly go to the mall and get a makeover, but she does come out of her shell and begin to stand on her own two feet.
The “makeover” in this novel is actually a bit inverted because while Fanny later gains some of her own agency and confidence, the real change that occurs is that the people around her finally see her for who she really is and start to value her!
Adjacent to the “ugly duckling” theme, many rom coms play with the idea that the main character is wonderful just as she is, but she is overlooked, shy, or overshadowed by other characters. There’s usually an “a-ha” moment where one or more characters finally see the main character in a new way.
In MP, Edmund and his family members finally wake up and see Fanny for her true worth. Miss Crawford is the shiny object that distracts Edmund from much of the novel from seeing Fanny’s quieter brilliance.
Red Herring (aka, the Shiny Object)
Similar to the chemistry and relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley (and the Frank Churchill distraction), there’s a red herring (or several) in Mansfield Park as well.
In The Take’s “The Rom Com Explained,” we find this explanation of the red herring theme: “Rom-com leads often start out with a red herring love interest who seems very appealing but turns out to be all wrong. Meanwhile, as the protagonist spends time with someone they aren’t actively trying to impress, they can be their unfiltered self and get to know the other person in a real way. This long-developing chemistry leads to a moment of epiphany, where the character suddenly realizes the feelings that have been crystal-clear to the viewer all along.”
In Mansfield Park, the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford (siblings) is the pebble thrown into the pond at Mansfield. This disrupts the regular rhythm of life for Fanny and Edmund and the rest of the Bertram family and sets the plot spinning.
Henry throws a wrench into several plot lines, while Mary comes between Fanny and Edmund. Edmund, dazzled by Mary’s beauty, is blinded by Mary and only sees her through rose-colored glasses. Fanny waits in the wings, heart aching, as he falls for Mary.
Mary, similar to Wickham, Willoughby, and others, is the “shiny object” that keeps Edmund distracted and causes havoc for Fanny. Fanny cannot prove what she thinks is wrong with either of the Crawfords. She has no other recourse but to wait patiently until Mary and Henry both show their true colors.
Of all the themes in rom coms used today, Best Friends-to-Lovers is one of the most popular and it fits Mansfield Park beautifully. While Emma and Mr. Knightley have a bit of this vibe, much of their chemistry comes from their sparring matches (like Elizabeth and Darcy). But with Fanny and Edmund, they are incredibly close friends who share many of the same interests, qualities, and values. Edmund is the first person to take an interest in Fanny when she comes to live at Mansfield.
If you think of MP as a new school, Fanny is the new kid and the popular kids won’t talk to her or play with her. Edmund is different. Edmund helps Fanny when she is sad and lonely. At first, she looks up to him, but as they grow up, mutual respect and affection grows. Later, at least for Fanny, love begins to bud.
The Love Triangle
As in most Austen novels, there’s a love triangle, which is probably the most popular trope in most romantic comedies today.
In Mansfield Park, there are multiple love triangles, but we don’t see all of them at first. The one we focus on most is the Fanny-Edmund-Mary triangle. While Fanny hides lovelorn feelings for Edmund, Edmund doesn’t see Fanny as more than a friend/cousin he grew up with. Miss Crawford comes to town at exactly the wrong moment and steals the show.
Until Edmund sees Miss Crawford for her true self, he is blinded by her alluring personality and beauty and cannot see Fanny standing right in front of him.
Love Triangles similar to Mansfield Park
When I started looking for modern movies with similar themes (Best Friends-Turned-Lovers, Ugly Duckling-Turned Swan, Unrequited Love), I posted questions on my Instagram account (@KindredSpiritBooks) and on the Jane Austen Fan Club on Facebook. I received dozens and dozens of answers to this intriguing question!
If you’ve ever wanted to know what themes come up most often in movies, take a look at this list; it’s the longest list I’ve had yet in this series. There’s no denying that movie-goers respond well to love triangles—especially when the triangle involves two close friends finally realizing their love for one another!
The Holiday, 10 Things I Hate About You, 13 Going On 30, A Cinderella Story, A Walk to Remember, Always Be My Maybe, America’s Sweethearts, Can’t Buy Me Love, FRIENDS (Chandler and Monica), Crossing Delancey , Drive Me Crazy, Easy A, Ever After, Get Over It, Grease, He’s Just Not That into You, Love and Basketball, Love, Rosie , Made of Honour, Maid in Manhattan, Miss Congeniality, Moonstruck, Never Been Kissed, Pretty in Pink, Pygmalion (My Fair Lady), Sabrina, She’s all That, She’s the Man, Sixteen Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Something Borrowed, Superman, The Duff, The Office (Jim and Pam), The Perfect Man, The Princess Diaries, The Summer I Turned Pretty, The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Trojan War, Whatever It Takes, While You Were Sleeping, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Win a Date with Todd Hamilton, Yesterday, Your Place or Mine.
When asked what themes they saw in Mansfield Park that are common in romantic films today, several fans quipped, “The Cousins-to-Lovers” theme? Which made me laugh out loud. Yes, cousins did marry cousins during Austen’s time, but it’s still a funny remark.
I’m sure you can add others to this list! In each of these movies, there is some element of MP present.
When I took these polls, the one thing everyone agreed on was this: We like Fanny Price because she doesn’t change her morals, her convictions, or her personality just to gain acceptance or love. She does blossom, but she doesn’t change. She is the same through-and-through, which makes her a very admirable heroine. Edmund finally wakes up and begins to see her in a new light, but she doesn’t become more like Mary Crawford; she remains steady, true Fanny.
Fanny has a lot to lose in terms of a future when she refuses to give in to Henry Crawford’s proposal and her uncle’s pressure. Without an inheritance of her own, her only options are to continue living with her aunt and uncle Bertram as long as they will have her or find work as a governess. And yet, though she’s timid and easily intimidated, she does not yield.
Have you seen any of the film versions of Mansfield Park? If so, which one do you think remains most faithful to the original text? (I’ve yet to find one that I enjoyed as much as the novel, but I’m open to suggestions!)
Are there any other books or movies in this genre that allow the heroine to stay true to herself as she wait patiently for her dreams to come true?
RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women Devotional, The Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.