Mansfield Park

When my children have big projects or a great deal of homework to finish, I encourage them to tackle the hardest job first. That was my thinking when I chose Mansfield Park as my first Janeite at Forty re-read. It is my least favorite Austen novel and I have heard many other Janeites say the same. I believe the problem is that it is very difficult for a modern woman to relate to the book’s main character, Fanny Price. MP

I had hoped that a second read would provide a greater understanding of Fanny and her relationship with her cousin Edmund, and I suppose I did reach that goal. The problem is I dislike them even more this time around. I recently mentioned to a friend that in spite having left behind my preference for bad boys years ago, I still prefer Henry Crawford to Edmund Bertram. I might even prefer George Wickham to Edmund Bertram.

Edmund has his good qualities. He was always Fanny’s champion even when his attentions were diverted to Mary Crawford. His care for his brother Tom during his illness is commendable as is his genuine grief over his fallen sister. However, his self-righteousness is hard to swallow as is his willingness to set aside decorum if it means he can be closer to Mary.

I know several out there will disagree with me, but I do believe he genuinely loved Mary Crawford. He was willfully blind to her faults and even her preferences. If Darcy could see that Wickham would make a poor clergyman, Edmund should have seen that Mary would have been miserable as a clergyman’s wife. There was nothing just in her preference for town and society though she was raised among such. She had been poorly influenced. Of course, she should have preferred a quiet family party and if given enough time, surely he could make her see where she was wrong. Why shouldn’t he think he could change her mind, after all, he had formed Fanny’s to his liking.

Yes, he loved Mary and she broke his heart. So what else could he do but turn to her exact opposite? I believe he decided to marry Fanny simply because Fanny was there and would never disagree with him. Perhaps I am too harsh, but I just really do not like him!

I can happily say that two things stood out for me in this re-reading that were not there the first time. The first is the feeling of sincere sympathy for the little girl Fanny who was taken away from everything she knew and loved and plopped down in front of strangers who were primarily inconsiderate and often cruel. As a mother, my heart ached for that little girl and wanted very much to comfort her. My affection lasted only until the second or third time she praised Edmund as the best being in creation. In all seriousness, Austen does a beautiful job in showing us how words can affect a child, especially one as timid and out of place as Fanny. It is no wonder she gave her heart to Edmund as he was the only one who showed any kindness to her in those early years.

I think about what Fanny could have been had she been loved. Henry fell in love with her (as much as he could) when her entire countenance was changed in her brother’s company. Fanny was a woman meant to love and I wish I could see her as a mother. I can believe that she would find courage and strength in that role and give her children all the familial comforts that she was denied.

The second material change, or perhaps greater awareness, was the development of a true and genuine hatred of Mrs. Norris. I believe she talked Sir Thomas into taking Fanny in so that she would be above at least one person at Mansfield. Her cruelty to Fanny as well has her constant interference at Mansfield was hard to witness. How annoying is it to see a woman so concerned with the workings of another woman’s house? How many women do we know like her in real life?

One thing I enjoyed a great deal was the humor displayed throughout the book. While I believe the main characters lacked depth and likability, the narration was full of witty and thoughtful observance. If I ever read this again, I believe I will do so with an air of biting sarcasm. I will choose to believe that Austen wrote Mansfield Park as a parody of the weak, pliable female that was the expectation of so many at the time. I will go against the grain and determine Mary, Henry and even Rushworth as the more likeable characters.

Go on, despise me if you dare. I would love to hear your opinions on my observations as well as your own. Next month, I believe we will tackle Emma. I promise I will like the protagonists next time around. See you then!

10 thoughts on “Mansfield Park

  1. I think I have to agree with you on Mansfield Park being the least favored of Jane Austen’s stories. I have not read it since I FIRST read it for a Jane Austen Literature course I took in college. (which is where I fell in love with Mr. Darcy!) It’s noticeable especially in the fact that you can’t even find any modern adaptations (along the lines of Clueless/Bridget Jones.) There is just — nothing.

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  2. Brave, Pamela! LOL. I am glad to see you doing this re-read of all the stories. I love that you went for your least liked one first.

    I’m a weird Jane Austen fan in that MP is my second favorite. It started in high school when our literary club had to take a book heroine and defend her merits against another. I drew Fanny Price and my book buddy drew Elizabeth Bennet. I learned a lot about quiet strength and beta characters through the exercise. I learned to enjoy Fanny Price and to appreciate, as you noted, the humor in this one and respect the author’s mind for her various shaded characters including the black-hearted Mrs. Norris, bumbling yet harmless Mr. Rushworth, stupid Maria and languid Lady Bertram.
    I happily agree with you about Edmund, his romance with Mary, and his ‘settling’ for Fanny. I also agree with you about the less savory characters being the most interesting and charismatic. Some of my favorite variations are those that play around with Fanny ending up with Henry. I’ve got a new to me series sitting on my Kindle that makes Mary Crawford the heroin and I look forward to it.
    I’ve got an audio and an annotated copy of this one so I hope to do a re-read at some point this year, too. 🙂
    I enjoying seeing what struck you from this latest go around with the story. Look forward to what you have to say about your next one, Pamela!

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    1. I could write all day about the awesomeness of Mary Crawford, but it’s been done a couple of times recently and I don’t want to be redundant. I would love to have the link to that Mary as heroine book. I understand why she is portrayed as the ‘villain’ but is she really? Perhaps Jane was being ironic by placing a woman who knew what she wanted in that role. Even now, strong, independent thinking women are often considered the ‘b’ word. It’s sad that it hasn’t changed all that much in 200 years.

      While I love the idea of comparing Fanny with Elizabeth, I think doing a comparison between Elizabeth an Mary would be just as interesting. I think they are more alike than many readers would want to admit.

      Thanks for stopping by! I can’t wait to hear your opinions of Emma!

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  3. This is my least favorite book. I do find it hard to swallow how Edmund and Fanny marry in the end. I do like Henry Crawford. I think he loved Fanny, and she could have done much with his character. I have read a couple of fan fiction variations that have Henry leaving because of his unhappiness with Fanny’s decision. I really prefer the two of them together.

    I have felt really sorry for Rushworth the poor bumbling fool that he is. Maria’s aunt, Mrs. Norris, did her no favors in that marriage arrangement. Living as close as she did to these nieces and nephews, she should have corrected these poor behaviors instead of condoning them. It is unfortunate how much Mrs. Norris ran that household with her sister letting her interfere! I guess we can be glad she had no children of her own. These parents are certainly the opposite of the Bennet’s; at least those girls knew they were loved in spite of the weaknesses of their parents.

    I find it interesting how Jane Austen created absentee parents when they shared the house with their children. What kind of statements as a whole was she saying? This is underlying theme in each of her novels. I will need to study this in more detail when I am done with school and reread each novel.

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    1. I’m still reading MP for the first time so I can’t comment on too much yet, but that I totally agree about Mrs. Norris (I’ve even wondered if she’s in love with Sir Thomas) and that Austen continually has uninvolved parents. I don’t know if she’s saying there was a societal issue, or if it’s an education thing. If the parents are more involved the children are more balanced and therefore much more ordinary and boring and not really worth writing a novel about. But on the other hand, the familial interactions she does paint are far too interesting and with hidden depths to be just plot devices.

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    2. Yes, parenting, or lack there of, is one of Jane’s best themes. I do think that Sir Thomas, unlike Mr. Bennet, truly felt the consequence of his poor parenting and made a real effort at amends. I loved reading the line about him not really liking Mrs. Norris. Still, though, he allowed her too much control of his house. He paid the price for that, as did poor Fanny.

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  4. MP is a must read because it is an Austen! But it is not one I come back to. Thank you for your insite. I look forward to next month with Emma.

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