Dinner at Mansfield Parsonage
I asked Mrs Grandison, the Archdeacon's wife, what dinner was like at Mansfield parsonage. She told me:
We always like going to the Edmund Bertrams, especially in summer, for they dine early, and there is time afterwards to walk round their beautiful garden; their apricot tree is one of the finest in the county. The dinner is always elegant and plentiful, with good wine, in the stile of Mansfield Park.
Edmund lets the farmers pay tithes in kind, whenever possible; so their income is never what it ought to be, but their barn and larder overflow; and his brother Tom is such an ardent sportsman, that they have more than enough game and fish.
The dinners are not as lavish as the Grants,' but they are very careful not to be compared to the Norrises. I have heard, by the way, that the "odd comers and goers" in the kitchen are well looked after, too.
Edmund is a kind and thoughtful host ñ only if you have the headache, do not say so, for you will be kindly urged to drink a large glass of sherry, which will make it much worse. Fanny is a good, careful housekeeper, perhaps a little too careful, but her servants respect her. I said to her once, that I supposed she had learned from the good housekeeping at Mansfield Park; and she said an odd thing, that as a girl she had staid some time in a house where everything was done very ill, and that was how she had learned.
Fanny is not shy when nobody is bullying her or sneering at her. I only once saw her discomposed, and that was when her cousin Julia was visiting. Mrs Yates has a loud voice, and a harsh laugh. She has become a little like Mrs Norris, and she spoke to Fanny as if she were still the pauper cousin in the schoolroom. I wanted to give her a set down, but knew not how. By the end of the evening poor Fanny looked quite ill. But in the normal way, she is perfectly at ease, and converses quite readily, though she is happier to listen than to talk. If someone says "But what does Mrs Bertram think?" she will flush up, and there will be that little look of fright. But then Edmund smiles at her, and she says what she thinks; and it is always well thought out, and thoroughly sound.
They will be glad if you bring the sonata you were practicing, for they love music, but are poor performers. As soon as they were married, Edmund got a master for Fanny, but it turned out that she cannot sing in tune. She has learned to play a few ballads, and accompanies Edmund, who does not have a bad voice, but I would not call it a good one either. They perform, let us say, very.. carefully, and when they have finished one song, they smile at one another as if they had completed some great concerto.
But everyone goes there for the conversation. It does not sparkle, neither Fanny nor Edmund has any idea of a joke; but there is not a book that comes out, of any importance, but Edmund and Fanny have both read it, and can discuss it: books and their garden are their only extravagances. The talk is of everything under the sun: politics, history, farming, plays, new inventions, poetry, transportation, taxes, Church business and the Navy ñ even novels. Edmund goes about the diocese a great deal, the Bishop thinks highly of him; he meets a great many people and their circle of friends is large.
Fanny dresses too simply for fashion, but she always looks pretty, for her happiness shines in her face. She likes to wear light colours: blue, grey, drab; I think myself she looks her best in a soft pink. She dislikes strong colours, and never wears green. When she was married, Sir Thomas gave her a pearl set, a necklace and earrings; it becomes her perfectly. She often wears Edmund's chain, with her brother's amber cross, and also a locket, that Edmund gave her. It has a miniature inside, of him; she painted it herself, but I do not think it at all like. She will never wear the superb gold chain that Mary Crawford gave her; it is locked in a drawer in Edmund's desk. I think he sometimes takes it out, and looks at it.
Their eldest girl came into the drawing room for a few minutes the last time I was there. She is a lovely little creature. I said "How pretty you look, Mary," and she whispered to me that her dress was an old ball gown, a real ball gown, of mamma's, that had been made over for her. It was a white silk, with glossy spots.