“The pause which followed this fruitless effort was ended by the same speaker, who, taking up one of the many volumes of plays that lay on the table, and turning it over, suddenly exclaimed—“Lovers’ Vows! And why should not Lovers’ Vows do for us as well as for the Ravenshaws? How came it never to be thought of before? It strikes me as if it would do exactly. What say you all?”-Tom Bertram, Mansfield Park
Ah, Lovers’ Vows. The bane of Mansfield Park, the contention of scholars. What to say about this play? It causes as many problems for Internet forum-goers as it does for Fanny. So I took a leaf out of her book and read it myself.
It really is a fun play. Apart from the hilarity of opening comments talking about how difficult it was for a girl to fix someone’s grammar, it’s a fairly versatile work that has a little bit of everything.
To sum it up, Agatha is a poor, ailing woman whose son is away at war. She was left destitute after her lover impregnated her and abandoned her, and now she has been forced out on the streets to beg. When her son arrives, he learns her story and sets out to demand reparations from the father he never knew.
The father, Baron Wildenhaim, is struggling with his own conscience regarding his desertion and debating whether or not to marry his daughter to the foolish, vain Count Cassel. Amelia, for her part, is much more interested in the vicar.
(You’re starting to see some parallels too, aren’t you? Yes, that’s what I thought.)
The play isn’t too long and ends, of course, on a happy note. You can read the full text here (as well as analysis regarding its place in Austen's novel). It’s a very enjoyable read, and it actually would be nice to see this take place on stage.
With regards to Mansfield Park, I have one bit to point out to detractors who don’t see why it was such a big deal. Not only are Frederick and Agatha constantly hugging, Frederick also leans his head over on his mother’s breast.
Now imagine the resident flirt doing that to the engaged woman who has been ignoring her fiancé for several months in favor of him.
This, however, inevitably ends in hilarity.