Mansfield Park: Jane Austen’s rare book

by AndreChevalier on December 15, 2011 · Rare Book Education, Rare English Literature

Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park was Jane Austen’s third published book.  It was published in May 1814 in three volumes and had a total of 1250 copies printed. Within six months, the copies sold, leaving editors and fans at the time, including the second edition publisher John Murray,  wondering why this ‘’First edition’’ was such a small edition given the success of the previous novel Pride and Prejudice .

This novel was written by Jane Austen when she lived at the Chawton cottage, during the period of 1812-1814. Planning of the novel started in February 1811 and the writing was finished in the summer of 1813. After undergoing several revisions and corrections, it was finally printed on May 4th 1814 by Thomas Egerton. Mansfield Park was unique in that it was the first of Jane Austen’s novels that was not a revision of work done earlier. As this was the least popular of her 4 novels published during her lifetime, it did not bear Austen’s name. On the cover, the author’s identity is enigmatically given as the “author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.’’

Mansfield Park centers around the main character, Fanny Price, who is a girl from a poor family, but who is raised by her rich uncle, along with her four cousins. Though the young Fanny is the most virtuous of all the children in her uncle’s home, she is sadly treated by them as inferior. The story takes place at Mansfield Park, thus deeming the book’s title.

In addition to the London editions first published in May of 1814, by T. Egerton and the second by John Murray in February of 1816, the first US edition was in 2 volumes, and was published in Philadelphia PA, by Carey and Pea in December of 1832. The first translation which was in French was done in 1816, and was published mixed with other novels under the name Le Parc de Mansfield.  For more information about the importance of imprint in rare book publications please read our previous post “Rare Books – what makes them rare.”

Despite the limited number of first edition copies available, the price of  Mansfield Park is lagging behind the corresponding Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice comparables.  Emma, the fourth book is closer but still higher in valuation than Mansfield Park which averages around $20,000. In terms of market availability, Mansfield Park first editions are scarcer than those of Emma. Is this then a signal for a great buying opportunity, or do the markets reflect a fair price? Two years ago, on December 11th 2009, at a London Sotheby’s auction, a first edition of Mansfield Park valued at 10-15k sold for 21,250 USD and set the tone for a valuation at a time when world economies have been somehow discouraging to investors. Other ISIACASAPP attributes being equal, the only support for the lower valuation can be found in popularity and the fact that Mansfield Park is the least known of all of Jane Austen’s novels.  Furthermore, being the author’s third published novel rather than the first is also of significance. Still, does it justify the difference between the $100,000 Sense and Sensibility valuation and the $20,000 Mansfield Park Valuation? The answer may lie in the factor of scarcity. Mansfield Park is scarce but Sense and Sensibility first edition with only 750 copies printed is twice as scarce.

Mansfield Park is still a rare book by all means. It is the work of a more mature Jane Austen who chooses to be less predictable in the theme’s content and stay away from the romantic plot that her fans have learned to expect from her previous novels. The book has seen its fair share of film adaptations and reprints and it will probably continue to be less popular than the rest. One thing for certain, is that it will remain Jane Austen’s third book from a total of six.

About the author

Article by Andre Chevalier. You can connect with Andre Chevalier on Google+

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