Room 6: ‘Rears and Vices’

In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford makes a controversial joke about her uncle’s Navy friends. When describing ‘a circle of admirals’, she says she has ‘seen enough’ of their ‘Rears and Vices’ – and then jokingly denies that she has made a sexual pun. Her wordplay links the naval titles of ‘vice-admirals’ and ‘rear-admirals’ to sex (‘vices’) and to people’s bottoms (‘rears’).

There was a common association between the Navy and sex between men at the time. This may have been reinforced for Jane by her brothers Frank and Charles, who witnessed many trials for sodomy during their time as Navy officers. Whether Jane intended the pun in this way or not, it would still have been considered a very shocking thing for Mary to say and Edmund (a future vicar) turns grave at her comment.