Mansfield Park Character Review: Mrs. Norris

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the novel Mansfield Park. Read at your own risk if you have not read the book or watched any of the adaptations. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

Every story needs a good antagonist. Without that character, the protagonist is not challenged and basically, the reader or viewer has no reason to pay attention to the narrative. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris is the eldest of the three Ward sisters. While her younger sister, Lady Bertram, married into the aristocracy, her youngest sister, Mrs. Price (mother of the book’s heroine, Fanny) disobliged her family by marrying a penniless sailor. Saying “I do” to a clergyman, she took advantage of the proximity to her sister and brother-in-law. Incensed that the baby of the family, Frances, chose a man that was far beneath her, the result of this choice was an angry letter followed by radio silence.

More than a decade later, Frances reaches out to her elder sisters, needing help. With many mouths to feed and a small income to support them, she has no choice but to contact them. As a result, Fanny is brought to Mansfield Park. The original plan was for Fanny to reside with Mr. and Mrs. Norris. But Mrs. Norris, who lacks any maternal instincts, except for those that will raise her social standing, forces Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram to take on the responsibility of caring for their niece.

Five years later, Mrs. Norris is now and widow and has moved into the big house. Giving Fanny the Cinderella treatment, she openly favors her elder nieces, Maria and Julia Bertram. Another of Fanny cousin’s, Edmund tries to interject, but his arguments cannot sway his aunt. She is the first one to bring up the idea of a marriage between Maria and Mr. Rushworth, knowing that the union is tentative until Sir Thomas gives his approval.

By the end of the story, she is still the social climber who clings tenuously to familial connections. Living with the now divorced and scandalized Maria, she remains as she ever was. But she cannot keep Fanny down. Fanny still marries Edmund and has her own version of happily ever after.

To sum it up: If there was one character who was the Austen villain, Mrs. Norris is it. She exemplifies the worst characteristics of the Regency era and the emphasis on money, class, and status. In being unable to see past these qualities, there is nothing redeemable or even likable about her.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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