Here is perhaps another angle we can look at Mansfield Park from: Julia, or, the world of Mansfield Park as seen from Julia's corner, as she the focus of the second half of this week's first chapter. What's interesting here is how within four brief pages Austen works to lead the reader to take a measure of all the other characters through the way each responds to Julia's pain.
Austen first strikes this note or turn in the narrative bya sentence in which while in Fanny's consciousness we observe Julia:
"Fanny's heart was not absolutely the only saddened one amongst them, as she soon began to acknowledge herself.--Julia was a sufferer too, though not as blameless" (Mansfield ParkChapman I:17,160)
Then we get two paragraphs in which Henry Crawford's "trifling" with Julia's feelings is spelled out. We are not asked to pity Julia; in fact we are told Julia encouraged Henry Crawford's "attentions," and what has happened is not any inward change in Julia; rather she is racked by jealousy, affronted, hurt, and simply "submits" to the situation by pretending not to care, all the while sitting in a "gloomy silence," "wrapt" in gravity"--the modern term would be she's sulking, except of course when Mr Yates pays attention to her and then she acts with "a forced gaiety to him alone." She pleases herself in "ridiculing" the others, and the narrator tells us she cares not a bit for any danger Maria may be in. She is very "tranquil," feels "no alarm" for Maria (160).
There's no sentimentalization here.
The next paragraph shows us Henry Crawford. We are told that after he gave the part of Agatha to her sister, and then triumphed over her by trying in front of others to seduce her into taking the part of Amelia just so she could have the privilege of bringing him baskets of fruit, "the affront" the narrator alludes to, he made a couple of careless "attacks" of "gallantry and complement," but then when Julia wasn't having any of it, his essential indifference to her won out. He "had not cared enough." In fact he thinks her sulking misery "a lucky occurrence." Note it's not that it keeps her out of the way of his pursuit of Maria; rather it's that were he to flirt with Julia, he might be in danger of having to get serious, to marry; with Maria, there can be no question of his getting caught:
"he grew indifferent to the quarrel, or rather thought it a lucky occurrence, as quietly putting an end to what might ere long have raised expectations in more than Mrs. Grant--" (160-1).
This introduction of Mrs Grant's name is the narrator's next thread. Now Mrs Grant is brought forward, and for the first time in 2 paragraphs, we get some acknowledgement of decency. Note again it's not that Mrs Grant is upset for Julia; the narrator says, although "she was not pleased to see Julia excluded from the play...but as it was a matter which really involved her happiness, and Henry must be the best judge of his own," she only worried lest Henry was involving himself too heavily with Maria. No problem there of course. With "his most persuasive smile," he assures her there's no danger he will "risk his tranquillity" for Maria (161).
Still Mrs Grant has a grudging kind of worry; she's not comfortable; she feels a mild compunction to speak to her sister, Mary; not that she's not able to be cheerful herself (161), but she foresees some danger will arise from Julia's behavior and Henry's too.
Now we get a diptych of perspectives on Julia. First Mrs Grant and Mary talk, and then Maria and Fanny take a turn in the narrator's prose. First Mrs Grant and Mary converse, and what we see is Mary is as cold as her brother:
"I wonder Julia is not in love with Henry,' was her observation to Mary. "'I dare say she is, replied Mary coldly. "I imagine both sisters are'" (161).
In the dialogue Mary exhibits scorn for both sisters, she tells Mrs Grant if she is worried about anyone she ought to speak to Maria to "think of Mr Rushworth," except here it's clear what Mary is thinking of is not Rushworth's feelings, but his "property and independence" which Maria is risking. As Mary says, "I never think of him." But then of course neither does Maria (161).
Mary does a little play upon a couplet which mocks Rushworth further as she thinks of what will happen when Sir Thomas returns. Maria will have to marry him. She shows no sorrow for Maria at all (161-2). Here one ought to remember the opening of Chapter 12 where the narrator for once enters into Maria's dread of her father's return because that means marriage to Rushworth (Mansfield Park Chapman I:12, 114).
Mrs Grant then tries to argue against Mary's apparent disdain for and dismissal of Sir Thomas. She tells Mary when she sees him she will not see a fool, nor a "dictator," as she seems to expect, not a moral prig either, but a man who deserves the respect of his family; "his consequence is just and reasonable I assure you" (162). She then begs Mary not to fancy that Maria loves Henry, to agree with her that Maria "loves Sotherton" too well to risk it.
Says Mary, again carelessly, if Henry made one step, Mr Rushworth would not have a chance. Mrs Grant cannot make Mary care or try to do anything to help anyone or stop her brother so Mrs Grant satisfies herself with a promise to herself after the play is done, they will make him show what he means to do or leave.
As the two ladies clear the stage so to speak, the narrator comes forward with the one paragraph on Julia which shows genuine sympathy for Julia, and it is there as an introduction to how Maria and Fanny view Julia, for, I submit, the purpose of this focus on Julia is to compare Henry and Mary's cold responses to Julia with their sister's more human if still cool one and then both of these with Maria's "triumph" over Julia, and Fanny's genuine identication with her:
"Julia did suffer, however, though Mrs Grant discerned it not, and though it escaped the notice of many of her own family likewise. She had loved, she did love still, and she had all the suffering which a warm temper and a high spirit were likely to endure under the disappointment of a dear, though irrational hope, with a strong sense of ill-usage" (162)
There is no sentimental slather: Julia's heart is "sore and angry," but she does have one, and it hurts. The narrator brings Maria in now by mentioning how the sisters before Henry came may not have had the deepest affectionate relationship with one another, but at least had been on easy terms. Now they are alienated; he has succeeded in making them enemies, and the paragraph ends on Maria's "triumph" over Julia which she is said to pursue "careless of Julia" (163)
Which leads us finally to Fanny. Alone among them Fanny identifies, alone among them Fanny shows an ability to feel for someone else who is all hard obduracy on the outside:
"Fanny saw and pitied much of this in Julia; but there was no outward fellowship between them. Julia made no communication, and Fanny took no liberties. They were two solitary sufferers, or connected only by Fanny's consciousness" (163).
The narrator then turns to the blindness and total indifference of Julia's brothers towards her, to Mrs Norris whose whole soul is caught up in miserly savings of "half-a-crown here and there" which no-one thanks her for (163).
I think the problem with much of our discussion of Mansfield Park is that we are not reading the text in front of us. The details here shows us two hard cold people, Mary and Henry, the difference between them in this chapter being that Henry is worse because he is the instigator of all this queasy wretchedness and sordid triumphing; one average person, Mrs Grant; two young women turned in upon one another so as to prey on one another, Maria and Julia, neither of whom is idealized, though perhaps Julia is not presented as being as vicious and desperate as the Maria who has sold herself and awaits her father's coming as the writhing but cunning prisoner the final sentence; and then Fanny, quiet, observant, able to enter into the suffering of the underdog, this week's victim because not only has she been there all the time, but she has learned to endure and struggle and cope with the hardness of existence, and she does have some pity in her heart.