“My argument is that 'Mansfield' is a name of generic Englishness, that it is so widely found as to make singling out a reference to Lord Mansfield both untenable and only understandably popular because of its capacity to be exploited in readings of Mansfield Park that bestow upon the novel a twentieth-century political correctness.” -- John Wilshire (link to pdf)
The Heir of Montague follows one English family, the Montagues (not to be confused with the real noble family of the same name). We open with the life story of grandfather Montague, who has one son and two daughters.
One daughter elopes but the unsanctioned marriage ends with the early death of the lovers, leaving their son Frederic, who is the main hero. The other daughter becomes a scolding spinster. In addition to being miserable to her family, she argues about politics--the 18th century version of the culture wars. As her saucy niece Cecelia explains, “Why you know my aunt is a democrat; well, she had been descanting upon rights of man, social happiness, necessary violence, and the blessings of the revolution in France, when I interrupted her, and advised a journey thither…”
Cecelia and her cousin Frederic are raised by her grouchy father, (the one son mentioned above) who has married a nice ladylike woman. Frederic and Cecelia do not fall in love. Although the countryside is shown as the abode of virtue in novels of this stamp, as opposed to the wicked city, here the countryside is also portrayed as being very dull and tedious for Mrs. Montague, Frederic, and Cecelia. Frederic is educated by an exceedingly long-winded vicar, Dr. Evans, who is opposed to all sorts of things, including singing in public, and warns against the many dangers lurking out there in the world to trap the innocent and unwary.
Thanks to the plot device of a carriage accident, Frederic meets the beautiful and principled Emma Nevil, who again, despite sharing her name with a noble family, who comes from a lower social strata than the Montagues. Impediments, hardships, and separations ensue before the pair can be happily united...