The Character of Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park
For any character there are three main ways of learning about them. Firstly, how the character themselves thinks and behaves. Secondly, how other characters respond to the character. Lastly, how the author discusses the character is very revealing. Each of these views of Mrs. Norris
is provided by the author.
Mrs Norris is only related to Mansfield Park
through her sister, Lady Bertram. While she may not have managed to make the affluent marriage that her sister did, there is no doubting her love of money. Sir Thomas Bertram provides an income for Mrs Norris' husband, a member of the clergy. This enables them to live in comfort and in close proximity to the house at Mansfield Park.
Mrs Norris is possibly the shallowest character in the community of Mansfield Park. She has no qualms about marrying for security, not love. Outward appearance is everything to her, especially how others perceive her. However, this leads her to make decisions for the wrong reasons
: "[She] found herself obliged to be attached to the Rev. Mr Norris". When Rev. Mr Norris dies, Austen hints at the perhaps loveless marriage that Mrs Norris was a part of: "[She] consoled herself by considering that she could do very well without him". Carrying on without her husband gives Mrs Norris another very welcome burden to bear.
It is Mrs Norris who makes the initial break from her youngest sister, Mrs Price, after she marries against her family's wishes. Yet, once she sees a way of making herself seem charitable and generous, Mrs Norris is keen to establish contact with Mrs Price once more. Her wish to be involved in every aspect of her familyís life conflicts with her standing on her sister's marriage to a Lieutenant of the Marines, but this does not seem to bother her.
The language that Mrs Norris uses is very persuasive and there are few ways of overriding what she says. Even those who are close to her are shown not to expend much effort arguing with her. In her attempts to persuade Sir Thomas to take Fanny Price, she declares: "[I] would rather deny myself the necessaries of life, than do an ungenerous thing". She is indifferent to others' protests and has an answer to everything. Mrs Norris is presented as the sort of person who believes herself to be liked by all, but is actually hated by most.
Mrs Norris has no qualms about favouring her niece, Maria, and also no worries about stirring relations between all three of her nieces at Mansfield Park. Rather than admonishing her niece's prejudices against their less fortunate cousin, she explains that Fanny is to be pitied and once more wastes no time in praising her nieces' accomplishments: "You must not expect everybody to be as forward and quick at learning as yourself". The superficiality of the praise perpetually being given to the Bertrams on the upbringing of their children is somewhat undermined by Lady Bertram's own admission that she has only recently persuaded Julia to leave her dog alone.
While there is pity for Fanny being treated like a parcel after Rev. Mr Norris' death, there is surprise when Mrs Norris refuses to take her niece under her wing. Her attitude of being unable to care for Fanny contrasts strongly with the image of the doting aunt she gave when persuading to take her in in the first place. When Rev. Mr Norris was alive, it was his presence that proved the stumbling block when it came to Fanny living with them at the Parsonage. Now he is deceased, it is Mrs Norris' lack of husband that becomes her reason for not accepting Fanny into her household to live. Any far fetched reason will do for Mrs Norris as she tries to reason with her sister. Her need for money and the rank of a noblewoman is put down to honouring the memory of her late husband. The impression already given by Austen opposes this; the reader knows perfectly well that Mrs Norris only cares about herself.
Mrs Norris exclaims about the moral impossibility of Fanny falling in love with one of her male cousins, yet her hypocrisy is evident as it was obviously perfectly acceptable for her to marry for convenience and public status.
Other characters appear to be worn down by Mrs. Norris' indifference to outside opinions. While Sir and Lady Bertram are surprised at Mrs. Norris' refusal to take responsibility for Fanny, they do little in the way of arguing back. They simply resign themselves to the fact that they will care for their niece, despite it having been Mrs. Norris' idea at the start. When Edmund mentions his aunt's "love of money" to Fanny, it is the first time that someone other than Jane Austen has acknowledged a fault of the domineering aunt.
The way in which Austen has written Mrs Norris is comical, but none of the arrogant selfishness of her character is lost through being able to laugh at how she behaves. Austen writes of Mrs Norris having a "spirit of activity". It was this busybodying that severed the link between the Ward sisters in the first place. However, once she sees a way of doing good, Mrs Norris gives herself a key role in writing to Mrs Price: "Mrs Norris wrote the letters". This sums up how, while she may not be in complete control, she must play an important part. In contrast to the part she played in causing the rift, it is almost worthless.
Mrs Norris' self-importance is never more evident than when she meets Fanny at Northampton: "[Mrs Norris] regaled in the credit of being foremost to welcome her". From then on however, Fanny is bullied and dominated by her Aunt Norris. On the journey to Mansfield Park, the frightened girl is constantly reminded of how grateful she should be. The idea of Fanny being homesick is quite beyond Mrs Norris' grasp and she sees her as rude. Mrs Norris obviously has no direct experience with children and Austen explains that Fanny never received kindness from her aunt.
Jane Austen is always influencing our view of Mrs Norris, whether directly or indirectly. Mrs Norrisí own actions show what an opinionated, bossy woman she is. While the relative indifference of those around may more suggestive of their own characters, it shows how oppressive she is. Finally, Austen herself directly affects what we think of Mrs Norris with her own commentary in the the text. There are moments of authorial voice that simply give frank insights into the character of Mrs Norris. The summation of these three points is how the reader comes to an understanding of Mrs Norris.