Mansfield Park

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Mansfield Park
Written by: Jane Austen
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First published: July 1814
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"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest."
—~ Chapter 48

Jane Austen's least popular and most controversial novel, published in 1814, a year after Pride and Prejudice. Following the success of that novel, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra that she wanted to write something less "light, and bright, and sparkling" next time. One thing is for sure: this is the novel where she spends the most time dwelling on guilt and misery.

The heroine is one Fanny Price. Atypical for an Austen heroine, she comes from a relatively poor family with a lazy, unaffectionate mother and a father who loves his whiskey more than his children. Mrs. Price becomes desperate enough while expecting her ninth child to reach out to her two richer, estranged elder sisters for help. Her brother-in-law Sir Thomas Bertram responds by advancing her eldest son's career in the Navy and adopting Fanny, her eldest daughter.

Fanny arrives at his estate, Mansfield Park, when she is ten years old, but her troubles only begin there. Her aunt, Mrs. Norris, meddles in everyone else's lives, especially her sister's and brother-in-law's, because she has no life of her own and practically lives at the Park since her husband is the clergyman of Mansfield Parsonage. Although she initially proposed the adoption, she subsequently treats Fanny worse than any Wicked Stepmother ever could, determined to make sure that the girl knows her place. While spoiling the Bertrams' daughters and raising them to believe they have no faults whatsoever, she can never seem to make Fanny miserable enough, constantly reminding her why she has no right to be happy every time good fortune befalls her, keeping her from mixing with society, trying to prevent her from getting a new horse when her old one dies, and forbidding a fire from being lit in the apartment she uses when not in her small attic room near the servants' quarters.

Eight years of this psychological abuse and very little love and affection make Fanny a quiet, timid, passive, obedient young woman who believes nothing could be more unnatural than her enjoying herself or having her needs acknowledged or met. Any kindness practically frightens her since, in her own mind, she doesn't deserve it, and any demands made on her time or comfort are instantly met, even if it means cutting roses and running errands in such heat that she almost passes out. Nobody else around her goes out of their way to be cruel, but neither do they take much notice of her. Her uncle Sir Thomas is kind but intimidating and, although no fan of Mrs. Norris, is somehow oblivious to just how cruelly she treats his niece. Her other aunt, Lady Bertram, is lazy and apparently stupid, rarely stirring from her sofa, and uses Fanny as a personal companion to make her tea, read to her, etc.

The Bertrams' eldest son Tom is harmless, aside from driving the family deeper into debt every day. Their daughters, Maria and Julia, look down on Fanny but mostly ignore her. Her only friend is their second son Edmund, six years her senior, who is always there to comfort and defend his cousin and do his best to make her happy. So it's a small wonder that 18-year-old Fanny eventually realizes she's fallen in love with him (no taboo against Kissing Cousins in this context, remember?).

But that will have to wait. When Mr. Norris dies, a Dr. Grant takes over his job and moves into the Parsonage. Shortly after Sir Thomas goes away on business, Mrs. Grant's brother and sister, the Crawfords, come for an extended visit. Henry Crawford is a charming, shameless flirt who has no qualms about courting both the Miss Bertrams at once... despite Maria already being engaged to the rich but dim Mr. Rushworth (whom she doesn't even like -- the marriage was all Mrs. Norris' idea, or so she claims). Mary Crawford is short on scruples but makes up for it in beauty, and Edmund very soon falls head over heels for her. Both Fanny and the reader can see she is not right for him, especially after the way she belittles his chosen profession of clergyman, but Edmund repeatedly excuses all her distasteful behaviour as due to poor upbringing or the influence of the wrong friends.

Things start to get out of control within the two Love Triangles when Tom and his friend Mr. Yates get the crazy idea to throw a play at Mansfield and the worst possible couples get cast as lovers or partners. Sir Thomas arrives home in time to put a stop to any performance (and undo the construction done to the billiard room and his own room), and Henry Crawford conspicuously leaves town, just in time for Maria to grow to hate him for trifling with her and marry Mr. Rushworth out of spite. She takes Julia with her as a companion for the time being when she removes to her husband's estate of Sotherton, and the absence of the two young ladies suddenly elevates Fanny in importance in everyone's eyes. Despite all Mrs. Norris' attempts to stop it, she is allowed new pleasures she has never known before -- dining with the Grants and Crawfords at the Parsonage, attending her first ball, which doubles as her coming out party, and receiving a visit from her beloved older brother William.

Of course, none of these novelties can make up for the fact that Edmund grows more devoted to Miss Crawford, who likes him well enough but wishes he was richer and had a different career in mind. Aware of this, a discouraged Edmund goes to London to take orders, while Fanny, to her shock and horror, receives a marriage proposal from Henry Crawford! Fully remembering his mistreatment of her cousins, Fanny can neither trust nor esteem him and adamantly refuses to marry him, in spite of all of Edmund's and her uncle's persuasion, in spite of all the accusations of being ungrateful and selfish and everything that has always made her relent in the past, in spite of all of Mr. Crawford's charms. Will a visit to her childhood home make her relent? Sir Thomas hopes so... until a long period of guilt and misery due to two critical events make everyone straighten out their priorities...

All the trademark Austen themes of marriage for love, prejudice against women who dare to demonstrate any independence, loyalty and duty, class differences, Pride, Greed, and Lust, with some new emphasis on the importance of good education and good parenting, are presented via her signature sarcasm and ironic wit. Unfortunate Implications regarding the slave trade, however, have not helped the novel's reputation. References to Sir Thomas' business in Antigua and Fanny once nonchalantly mentioning the slave trade may imply the Bertram estate was founded on slave labour; the British slave trade was abolished in 1807. Austen was no supporter of slavery, however, and the references are completely tangential to the story, having no effect on the plot. Instead of ignoring them, however, at least one film adaptation in 1999 makes slavery a significant theme.

Well, it was popular enough to be remade as Mansfield Park and Mummies, and J. K. Rowling liked it enough to name one of her characters after the villainess.

P.S. Reading Elizabeth Inchbald's Lovers' Vows -- the play Tom, his sisters, and friends form a Zany Scheme of performing -- makes Austen's wit, sarcasm, irony, and commentary twice as clear (and enjoyable).

Tropes used in Mansfield Park include:

  • A Lady on Each Arm: Henry Crawford with Maria and Julia
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Maria and Julia both fall too hard for Henry Crawford to hate him for manipulating them both and instead just become jealous of each other. Fanny Price Snr. seems to have fallen prey to this when she married Lt Price, which could be why Fanny doesn't want to repeat the mistake with Crawford, even if the financial difficulties don't apply.
  • All Love Is Unrequited/Love Dodecahedron: Mr. Rushworth is in love with Maria, and Mr. Yates is in love with Julia, but both Bertram sisters are in love with Henry Crawford, who claims to be in love with Fanny, who is in love with Edmund, who is in love with Mary Crawford, who is in love with money. Who wrote this -- Jane Austen or Charles Schulz?
  • Arranged Marriage: Maria Crawford has no problem with this.
  • Becoming the Mask: Henry Crawford decides to make Fanny fall in love with him as a game to himself, unable to accept that there is one woman on Earth who is immune to his charms. He never counted on falling for her in the process.
  • Betty and Veronica: With four different triangles: Edmund (Archie), Fanny (Betty), Mary Crawford (Veronica); Fanny (Archie), Edmund (Betty), Henry Crawford (Veronica); Henry (Archie), Fanny (Betty) and Maria Bertram (Veronica); and Maria (Archie), Mr. Rushworth (Betty), Henry (Veronica).
  • Book Dumb Fanny, when she first arrives at Mansfield Park- she knows very little about the arts or humanities- all she knows about are dumb things like how to help keep a house, how to look after babies, how to manage and educate younger kids, &c...
    • Sadly for her, her two cousins (and the governess) are exactly the opposite- they're terribly accomplished, but so Life Dumb they don't know the difference between 'uneducated' and 'stupid', and, despite not being naturally mean, are spectacularly emotionally illiterate.. Fanny makes up for lost time later, at least in theology and philosophy, with Edmund's help; but, because their confidence was built up too high, Maria and Julia never gain any wisdom until it's far too late.
  • Bookworm: Fanny and Edmund
  • Brainless Beauty: Lady Bertram
  • Break the Cutie: Fanny... the entire book
  • Break the Haughty: Sir Thomas towards the end
  • Casanova: Henry Crawford
  • The Cassandra: Fanny
  • Character Development: Fanny starts to stand up for herself and take the initiative (such as when she helps her sister Susan with her problem with Betsy), Edmund's eyes are opened to the real Mary Crawford, and Sir Thomas experiences the typical Jane Austen Rude-Awakening-and-Painful-Disillusionment.
  • The Charmer: Henry Crawford
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Fanny and Edmund
  • Cinderella Circumstances: No wonder Fanny's situation reminds people more of Charlotte Bronte than of Jane Austen.
  • City Mouse: Mary Crawford
  • Dances and Balls: 2
  • Darker and Edgier: Was supposed to be this to Pride and Prejudice. Was also supposed to be not about marriage at all, but ordination; that was the intention, anyway.
  • The Ditz: Lady Bertram, Mr. Rushworth
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Falls apart between the Crawford siblings and the Bertram siblings. Leave the shipping to us, Mrs. Grant.
  • Double Standard: The Narrator makes no secret of how society won't punish Henry Crawford nearly as much as Maria after their affair. Fanny also expresses her disdain for how women seem to be obligated to approve of any man who offers her his affection.
  • The Dutiful Son: Edmund
  • Emotionless Girl: Fanny as a survival mechanism. Compare Elinor in Sense and Sensibility, Anne in Persuasion, and Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice -- all mortifyingly shy, very affectionate to all, always trying to accommodate everyone's demands as much as they can, all looking up to an older kind male figure to whom they are related by blood (with said male having been their only friend for many years and having taught them all they know), and, to top it off, all having lonely childhoods with no friends of their own ages and used to using silence and emotionlessness to cope with difficult situations.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Edmund gets one shortly after Fanny moves in and he finds her crying on a staircase.
  • Evil Matriarch: Mrs. Norris, which Sir Thomas doesn't realize until it's too late to repair the damage she's caused in how she raised his daughters.
  • Extreme Doormat: Fanny, before her Stalker with a Crush teaches her anger.
  • First-Name Basis: The Crawfords switching from "Miss Price" to "Fanny" after Henry proposes.
  • Foreshadowing: Maria's role as Agatha in Lovers' Vows.
  • Freud Was Right: It pains Fanny to see Mary Crawford riding the horse Edmund once established as solely for Fanny's use...
    • The necklace scene. Fanny has two possible chains for her cross--one from Henry and one from Edmund. Henry's doesn't fit in the designated hole. Edmund's fits just fine.
  • Freudian Excuse: Constantly debated between Edmund and Fanny. He eventually has to accept that this excuse has its limits.
  • Genre Savvy: Sir Thomas is at first reluctant to take in Fanny because he knows that's just asking for Kissing Cousins.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Sir Thomas may not always know how to show it, but he genuinely cares about his children (including his niece), enough to be depressed by their sadness and try to right any wrongs as soon as he discovers them, such as Mrs. Norris forbidding Fanny's room from having a fire.
  • Handsome Lech: Henry Crawford
  • Happily Ever After: It's a Foregone Conclusion.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Poor Fanny sure gets "knocked up" a lot, not to mention all the "intercourse" and Henry Crawford "making love" to her. Also, when Henry Crawford is discussing with his sister the possibility of seducing Fanny, one of his questions about her is "Is she queer?"
    • Also in Austen's time, "coming out" meant when a girl "entered society" - i.e., became eligible for marriage - by attending her first ball, as Fanny does in the middle of the novel. The modern-day meaning of it being when a gay or bisexual person announces their orientation is a twist on the old meaning, since it usually marks their entrance into the dating scene, too.
  • Hidden Depths: Fanny, Mary Crawford, Henry Crawford, Sir Thomas. Even Lady Bertram gets this to some extent, in that it's only when Fanny is away, in Portsmouth, that she realizes how important she is to her and begins to really appreciate her.
  • Hoist By Her Own Petard: Mary Crawford
  • Homage: The sub-plot involving the play Lovers' Vows.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Henry Crawford; men who get the girl in Austen's world always know how to take "No" for an answer.
  • Hypocrite: Henry Crawford
  • Ignored Epiphany: Ignored Character Development, to be more accurate -- Mary Crawford falls in love with Edmund despite him being a second son but, unlike Mr. Darcy or Emma Woodhouse, she refuses to put what she learns about herself and love into practice and passes up the opportunity to learn to Marry for Love and accept Edmund even if he is a clergyman without an income equal to his brother's.
  • Ill Girl: Fanny
    • Ill Boy: Tom Bertram towards the end
  • I Just Want to Be Loved / I Just Want to Be Special: Fanny's main goal throughout the book "to be important" or "to be of consequence."
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Fanny suffers the typical "crippling insecurities" and "low-self esteem" of victims of child abuse.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You:

Henry Crawford: I never was so long in company with a girl in my life, trying to entertain her, and succeed so ill! Never met with a girl who looked so grave on me! I must try to get the better of this. Her looks say, "I will not like you, I am determined not to like you"; and I say she shall.
Mary Crawford: Foolish fellow! And so this is her attraction after all! This it is, her not caring about you...

  • The "I Love You" Stigma: Edmund is away to visit a friend's family, and Mary Crawford asks Fanny to send him "compliments". Then she comments there should be a word between compliments and love to describe the sort of relationship they had. However, she is reluctant to actually use the word "love" because it would be premature.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Tom (rudely) sits down near Fanny at a dance with no intention of asking her, until his mother and aunt ask him to play cards with them, and he sadly must decline, as he was just about to dance with Fanny...
  • It's All About Me: Fanny doesn't see how Henry Crawford can claim to love her while persisting in a course of action that so obviously makes her so miserable.
    • His sister is no better. Edmund minimizes this fault until her defective brain-to-mouth filter eventually reveals just how deep it goes.
  • It's All My Fault: Tom feels he helped cause Maria's running off with Henry Crawford because of the antics during that stupid play.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable: Mary Crawford towards Edmund
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy:
    • Lampshaded inversion in Mary's case -- see It's All About Me.
    • Played straight in Fanny's case -- her objection to Edmund choosing Mary Crawford is less because she won't get him (though that's not nothing) and more because of who Mary is. When it gets closer to Edmund's anticipated proposal, Fanny's fretting is over the fact that Edmund would be unhappy when he discovers Mary's true character.
  • Kick the Dog: Edmund's blindness to Miss Crawford's true nature can no longer hold up when Fanny tells him of the letter she received when his brother was ill, featuring a stealth hope that he would die and make Edmund the heir of Mansfield Park, and therefore rich enough for her.

Julia: (to Fanny) Why, I have but this moment escaped from [Rushworth's] horrible mother. Such a penance as I have been enduring, while you were sitting here so composed and so happy! It might have been as well, perhaps, if you had been in my place, but you always contrive to keep out of these scrapes.

    • Hands up anyone who felt the need to leap through the pages and slap Julia? Strangulation is fine as well, you know?
  • Kissing Cousins: Mrs. Norris worries about this when she first brings Fanny to Mansfield Park, although not because it was wrong to marry your cousin, but because she didn't want Tom or Edmund marrying "below their station." It turns out her worries were well-founded, since Edmund and Fanny end up together.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Henry Crawford -- unfortunately, as in every Austen novel, the "love" isn't strong enough to give up his lady-killing ways.
  • Lazy Bum: Lady Bertram
  • Les Yay: Fanny/Mary Crawford -- much more subtle than Emma/Harriet but definitely there.

Edmund: Well, Fanny, and how do you like Miss Crawford now?
Fanny: Very well -- very much. I like to hear her talk. She entertains me; and she is so extremely pretty, that I have great pleasure in looking at her.

  • Like Brother and Sister: Mrs. Norris thinks this will be their surest defense against Kissing Cousins... yeah, she's wrong about a lot of things.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Edmund
  • Loving a Shadow: Edmund towards Miss Crawford
  • Marry for Love: Fanny is the only young woman in the novel who believes in this, in typical Austen heroine tradition.
  • The Matchmaker: Mrs. Norris
  • Matchmaker Crush: Edmund
  • The Messiah: Fanny consistently cares and worries about everyone's wellbeing, no matter if they have been horrible towards her or not. Despite how she feels about Edmund, she constantly does whatever she can to help both him and Mary Crawford, even if it leads to her own unhappiness, and she even feels bad about being afraid of Sir Thomas. In fact, when the play is being rehearsed and Julia is excluded, Fanny is the only one who worries about her at all, constantly concerned for her, and the only reason why she doesn't go to help her is because she thinks that she would be presuming too much importance in her own actions. Of course, the fact that everyone has become so adjusted to her acting this way is why it is such a huge shock when she rejects Henry's proposal - it turns out that Fanny is actually quite capable of holding negative opinions of people, even if she doesn't show them.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Edmund considers it irredeemable with Mary Crawford when she expresses her hope that Tom would die so Edmund would inherit Mansfield, and cuts it all off with her at that point.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sir Thomas regrets the way he raised (or neglected to raise) his children when all goes to proverbial Hell towards the end.
  • My God, You Are Serious: Fanny can't realize Henry Crawford's proposal is not an insulting joke until the next day.
  • Naive Newcomer: Fanny in Chapter 2
  • Nice Guy: Edmund
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The narrator states outright in the last few chapters that if Henry Crawford had not felt the need to conquer Maria's affections again, he would have ultimately won Fanny's heart and hand.
    • Also, Edmund was this close to proposing to Mary Crawford when she decided to write that letter expressing that she hoped Tom Bertram would die so Edmund would inherit the estate.
  • No Accounting for Taste: The Bertrams and the Rushworths.
  • Obliviously Evil: Invoked in Mary Crawford. Edmund finally realises and calls her on it when he sees how she reacts to Maria and Henry Crawford having an affair. He finally breaks it off with her when he finds out she's looking forward to Edmund's brother dying so he can inherit the estate.
  • Ojou: Maria and Julia, thanks chiefly to their Aunt Norris
  • Only Sane Man: Edmund after his father leaves; Fanny after Edmund falls victim to Love Makes You Crazy.
  • Parental Favoritism: Not just in the Bertram household but, as we see later, in the Price household, too.
  • Pet the Dog: Sir Thomas reveals himself as an admirable character when he offers to break off Maria's engagement to Mr. Rushworth simply because he can see she does not love him.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Mrs. Norris
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Henry Crawford
  • Princess for a Day: Fanny at her coming-out ball - to a lesser extent, this is basically how she is treated whenever Maria and Julia are not at Mansfield.
  • Promotion to Parent: Edmund while his father is away.
  • The Place
  • The Quiet One: Fanny
  • Reality Ensues: Unlike in the climax of Pride and Prejudice, no Big Damn Heroes can swoop in and save the family from shame and scandal this time.
  • Recycled in Space: Although not made by Quirk Books, authors of Pride and Prejudice And Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.
  • Right in Front of Me: Miss Crawford mocking the clergy to Edmund right before Julia reveals that as his chosen profession.
  • Rich Bitch: Mary Crawford, but Maria Bertram even moreso. Although Julia can still give both of them a run for their money when she decides to really dig deep and pull out the claws.
  • Romantic False Lead: Henry Crawford to Fanny; Mary Crawford for Edmund.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Fanny's refusal to marry a rich man she doesn't love; Edmund pursuing his chosen profession as clergyman over the wealthier prospects for gentlemen.
  • She's All Grown Up: Fanny gets this from all the nice members of her family, and Henry Crawford, who all eventually notice that while Maria and Julia were taking centre-stage, particularly with their jealous fighting over Henry Crawford, Fanny grew up, and she only needed a little more confidence and a new dress to bring this to their attention. Of course Mrs. Norris tries even harder to tear her down after she realises this.
  • Shipper on Deck: It seems everyone who knows about the proposal ships Fanny with Henry Crawford.
  • Shrinking Violet: Fanny is a word-for-word description of the current trope page. Her entire character and the way her character evolves over the span of the book is your perfect textbook example of a Shrinking Violet, even right down to the "crush on a popular main character." She may not be the Ur Example on this one, but she undoubtedly was either pivotal in the development of the Shrinking Violet character itself, or the Shrinking Violet codifier.
  • Sibling Rivalry: prominent with Maria and Julia, but noticeably averted (with the aversion lampshaded) with Fanny and William, who are best friends their entire lives and have nothing but good things to say about each other.
  • Sibling Triangle
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Tom and Edmund Bertram; Fanny and the more lively, confident Susan Price
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Farthest of Austen's novels from the Ideal end.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Mary Crawford.
  • Spoiled Brat: the Crawfords and the younger generation of Bertrams, minus Edmund. Betsey Price counts as well because Fanny Price Sr. pampers her so much and lets her get away with everything.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Henry Crawford does not take "No" for an answer from a woman.
  • Tempting Fate: Basically, any prediction any character ever makes is wrong.
  • They Just Didn't Care: The cast of Lover's Vows, with the exception of Mr. Yates, is concerned with the flirtations and betrayals which occur under cover of "rehearsals," rather than any serious attempt to produce the play.
    • Out-of-novel, the creators of the two most recent film versions of the novel. Patricia Rozema, writer and director of the 1999 version, has stated that she did not like either the novel or Fanny. The second half of that statement at least is quite evident to anyone who has seen the film, as Fanny's shyness, timidity, and moral fibre are replaced by an attempt to recreate Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice with material taken from other Austen novels and her own life. With regards to the 2007 ITV telefilm, the producer pointedly stated that the Fanny of their film was not at all the Fanny Price of the novel. Maggie Wadey, the screenwriter, was even clearer: she called Fanny a "one of the most [censored] in literature."
  • The Unfavorite: Fanny
  • The Vamp: Henry Crawford is a male version of this; his sister also eventually reveals herself capable of this.

Edmund: I had gone a few steps, Fanny, when I heard the door open behind me. "Mr. Bertram," said she. I looked back. "Mr. Bertram," said she, with a smile; but it was a smile ill-suited to the conversation that had passed, a saucy playful smile, seeming to invite in order to subdue me; at least it appeared so to me.

  • Wicked Stepmother: Mrs. Norris is Fanny's aunt but otherwise fits the trope dead on.
    • Considering that it was her idea in the first place to "adopt" Fanny, this comes very close to actually happening. Fanny's only saved by it because Mrs. Norris was too selfish to want to take even rudimentary care of her niece.
  • Wild Teen Party: Lovers' Vows turns into the Regency equivalent of this.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Henry Crawford; see Hypocrite. The entire cast of Lovers' Vows also show just how Wrong Genre Savvy they are with their ironic casting of parts.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Fanny's return to her parents' home in Portsmouth, to her dismay.
  • You Go, Girl!: Fanny calls society out on the Double Standard of women being forced to cater to the whim of any suitor no matter how he's acted before and criticizes the fact that if she had actually taken his former behaviour to her and extrapolated that he had an interest in her from it, she would be maligned by her very own gender for it, but his decision to want to marry her is received by everyone as something extremely lucky for her. It shows up the Double Standard that women were forced to play to back in Regency days, condemning the act of any woman putting up with abuse just because her partner is male, and condemning a society that could possibly favour such inequality. For the 1800s, her speech pretty Fair for Its Day, and you're not going to find anything closer to feminism until Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall came on the scene.
    • Not in respectable fiction, anyway (nothing written by Lady Woolstonecroft or Aphra Benn really goes into that genre.) Well, apart from Richardson's 'Pamela'. And then some of Shakespeare's characters...
  • Zany Scheme: The play Tom and Mr. Yates convince the others to put on.