UCLA’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

Example of an English garden, Newby Hall in North Yorkshire

Another view of Newby Hall’s gardens

Bowood House gardens in Wiltshire, England

Anne Mellor’s talk focused on the issue of slavery in Mansfield Park.

Spring 2014

In the Garden with Fanny Price

May 31, 2014

UCLA Faculty Center


Kim Wilson — In the Garden with Fanny Price
Anne Mellor — Fanny Price and Slavery
Philip Rundel — An Introduction to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
Terry Ryan — John Halperin’s Thoughts on Mansfield Park as Autobiography
Diana Birchall — Symbols at Sotherton


As Fanny Price observes, “To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

More than 135 people attended the Spring 2014 meeting, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park.

Mansfield Park has been called Jane Austen’s most complicated and most controversial novel, generating passionate debates on whether Fanny Price is a sympathetic character, what Jane Austen thought about amateur theatricals and whether Maria Bertram deserved the fate of living out her life in the company of the awful Mrs. Norris. The meeting focused on two of the novel’s major themes: the improvement of the estate and the troubling issue of slavery.

The program featured a special keynote address from Kim Wilson, author of In the Garden with Jane Austen, a book capturing the essence and beauty of the traditional English garden that Austen herself would have known and visited. Jane Austen loved a garden and Mansfield Park demonstrates her keen interest in gardens, from Mr. Rushworth’s “improvements” to Fanny’s geraniums.

Anne Mellor presented Fanny Price and Slavery, a discussion on the controversial topic of slavery in 19th century England. The slave trade, British slavery in the West Indian colonies and emancipation are important issues in the world of Mansfield Park. How much did Fanny Price share in both the treatment and the psychological responses of Mr. Bertram’s slaves? Mellor discussed this and other related issues in her compelling talk.

Distinguished UCLA Professor of Biology Philip Rundel then briefed attendees on Southern California botanical gardens, especially the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at UCLA, in advance of a tour of the garden later in the day. A living museum on the UCLA campus, the garden is a long-term repository for unusual plants.

John Halperin, author of The Life of Jane Austen and a research professor of English at Claremont Graduate University, was originally scheduled to speak on the autobiographical elements in Mansfield Park but had to cancel owing to ill health. Terry Ryan presented a short talk inspired by Halperin’s published musings on Jane Austen as heroine of this novel of her more mature years. Unlike Jane Austen’s first two novels, which were revisions of works written in her youth, Mansfield Park was begun and finished when she was in her 30s. Was Fanny Price as much a part of Jane Austen’s mature personality as Elizabeth Bennet was a part of her youthful one?

The visit to Sotherton impacted the lives and loves of many Mansfield Park characters. What really happened in the garden that fateful day at Sotherton? Diana Birchall intrigued the audience with her speculations on what really happened in the garden that fateful day at Sotherton!

After lunch, participants chose one of two activities — a walking tour of the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden or the opportunity to hear students of Chapman University’s English professor Lynda Hall discuss their submissions to to the 2014 JASNA Essay Contest on the intriguing topic “The Role of Silence in Mansfield Park.”


Kim Wilson is a writer, editor and gardener who lives in Wisconsin and is a longtime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the author of Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen, which takes readers on a virtual stroll through gardens which Austen would have known and visited, as well as the restored garden at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton.

Anne K. Mellor is a distinguished professor of English and women’s studies at UCLA. Her scholarly interests focus on 18th and 19th century British literature, women’s writing, feminist theory, and the visual arts. Her book Mothers of the Nation — Women’s Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 (2000) argues that women writers were instrumental in shaping public opinion during the Romantic era.

Philip Rundel, distinguished professor of biology, is director of the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. His research interests include the ecology, biodiversity and conservation biology of plants in arid and semi-arid regions.

Terry Ryan is a longtime JASNA-Southwest board member. She earned a BA in history from Stanford University and an MLS from the University of Washington. Before her retirement, she was associate university librarian for information technology at UCLA, where she received the esteemed Frank Cofrancesco Excellence in Technology Award.

Diana Birchall, a story analyst for Warner Bros Studios, is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, Mrs. Elton in America and the short story “Jane Austen’s Cat” in the Random House Anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Her Austen-related plays have been performed widely.