Mansfield Park is the study of three families--the Bertrams, the Crawfords, and the Prices. The story's heroine, Fanny Price, is at its center. She is adopted into the family of her rich uncle Thomas Bertram, and is condescendingly treated as a poor relation by "Aunt Norris." Of her cousins, only Edmund, a young clergyman, appreciates her fine qualities, and she falls in love with him. Unfortunately, however, he is drawn to the shallow and worldly Mary Crawford. Fanny's quiet passivity, steadfast loyalty, and natural goodness are matched against the wit and brilliance of her lovely rival. Jane Austen skillfully uses her characters' emotional relationships to explore the social and moral values by which they attempt to order their lives.
Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, the dependent niece of Sir Thomas Bertram who is taken into the Bertram family at a young age as a favor to her parents, who are not well-to-do. From the first, Fanny is taught her inferior place in the family by her officious Aunt Norris, who dotes on Fanny's cousins, Maria and Julia. At Mansfield Park, her cousin Edmund is the only one who sees Fanny's distress and tries to make things easier for her. He quickly becomes her only confidante and comfort in the Bertram home, and this continues into Fanny's adulthood. When the charming brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford come into the neighborhood, things begin to change — and not, in Fanny's opinion, for the better.
Austen's characterizations are excellent, as always. I think she achieved something special in Lady Bertram, even though my lady is quite a background sort of person. Indeed, it may be because of her minor-character status that the execution of the character is so striking to me. The word for Lady Bertram is "indolent," and rarely has anyone exemplified it better. She is not ill-meaning, and has a good heart, but she cannot be bothered to do anything for anyone. She is comfortable, pleasant, and in many ways only half-alive. And yet I like her very well, for some unaccountable reason.
Austen achieves similar things with the character of Henry Crawford. Usually I'm able to disdain the bad guys in Austen's world as cads and weaklings, but Crawford is written so well that I think I feel some of his charm even through the pages of a book. The way Austen probes his motivations and feelings is really fascinating. His main vice is not deliberate deception or evil, but rather overweening vanity and selfishness. And he is capable of good things.
The other characters are also well-drawn. Sir Thomas in all his dignity and yet truly good beliefs underneath the formality. Tom, with his thoughtless profligacy and unfixed principles. Maria with her haughty pride of beauty and money, and helpless love for someone who slights her. Edmund, with his kindness and, sometimes, blindness. Julia, with her jealousy of Maria and her selfishness. Aunt Norris, with her selfish officiousness and ruthless economy. Mr. Rushworth, with his money and his ridiculous two and forty speeches. Mary Crawford, with her unsound principles and disdain for anything unfashionable. We get a clear picture even of Dr. and Mrs. Grant, who have almost no dialogue whatsoever in the story.
Many readers disparage Fanny, the principal character of the story, as weak and passive. Certainly she does not have the spunk and polite sauciness of an Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse. Constantly belittled during her formative years and made to feel her inferiority by Aunt Norris, Fanny is terrified of being singled out for any kind of special notice. She was passive and retiring by nature, and her upbringing had the effect of exaggerating these qualities. Many modern readers can't stand this in a female character; modern conventions have taught us that heroines must be sassy and spunky. But I tend to fall into the small but determined camp that appreciates Fanny for who she is.
Fanny is always ready to give way for the convenience of others — but this does not stop her from observing their behavior, and venturing private judgments on it. And she is not often wrong in her assessments of the people around her. Despite her pliable nature, Fanny stops short when asked to do something against her principles. She refuses to take part in the not-quite-respectable play that her cousins put on, even though her Aunt Norris makes her feel very guilty over refusing. This foreshadows a later refusal, when Fanny dares to defy the expectations of the Bertrams on the much more serious matter of a marriage proposal. These refusals cause Fanny a great deal of wretchedness, but she stands her ground.
And this is why I love her. Not because she has a witty tongue or a keen eye for the foibles of others in the mode of the usual feisty heroine, but because she holds true to her beliefs even when under pressure from every quarter to compromise them. To me, this makes her much worthier of the adjective "strong" than many another heroine who talks back to the men and dares great things. Fanny is a strong woman because she, being weak, still stands firm on her convictions.
Mansfield Park is the longest and probably most complex of Austen's novels, and though there is a fair bit of pointed humor in the observations about Lady Bertram and Aunt Norris, it has a bitter edge to it. I also think the great tragedy/transgression of this story is the darkest of all Austen's stories, even worse than Lizzy's actions in Pride & Prejudice. Because of the definite lack of lighthearted wit and the seriousness of the evils committed, this is not a bubbling romance of misunderstandings and genteel follies. The denouément gives quite a lot to think about, especially regarding Fanny's probable actions had things happened differently than they did.
I do NOT recommend the 1999 movie starring Frances O'Connor. It changed Fanny's personality to something more acceptable to modern tastes, involved Sir Thomas in graphic, horrific barbarism in the slave plantations of Antigua, showed the illicit affair between Crawford and Maria, had Fanny actually accept Crawford at one point (!), and generally missed the whole point of the original story. Nor can I give the recent Masterpiece Theatre version starring Billie Piper much praise; Piper, though a good actress, is completely wrong for Fanny, and the whole production lacked panache. I'm not familiar with other film adaptations of the story, but in general I've heard they are all rather lacking. Pity.
In some ways this is an "ugly duckling" story, before such things became popular in the realm of chick-lit. But Fanny does not transform herself in the course of the story; she remains in many ways what she always has been. Perhaps it's more that the people around her transform slowly until they are finally able to see the beauty of her character. With fantastic characters, deft writing, probing insight, and occasional wryness, Austen's Mansfield Park is a thought-provoking story with an unusual heroine who compels respect instead of mere amusement. Highly recommended.
Having read all of Austen's major works I sensed from the start that Mansfield Park would become my favorite. Austen's characters are richly drawn and each deciferable in their own way. Fanny is Cinderella to her well to do Aunts, Norris and Lady Bertram. I don't believe I have met a character that I dislike more than Aunt Norris. She requests that Fanny move to Mansfield from her crowded home in Portsmouth only to pawn her off on her sister's family headed by Lady and Lord Bertram. She is essentially a servant to them and is repeatedly reminded of her place within the family. Fanny is greatful to be at Mansfield and knows her place. Oh, how the family is shocked to find that a financially independendent gentleman is smitten with Fanny. Fanny's love however is with another similarly shocking young man who has his sights set on another. How will this love triangle be reduced to a duo? Will Aunt Norris ever get the comeuppance she justly deserves? Jane Austen, you tease, makes the reader dwell, hope, dream of a suitable outcome until the final chapter.
This book has suspense, shocking revelations and is much more mature in material than any other Austen I have read. I found Fanny to be an endearing creature who trusts her instincts despite what others may believe to be the best for her. You go, Fanny.
Would I recommend it: I truly recommend this novel, it is an absolute classic in my opinion.
I loved how Mrs. Norris was got out of the house at the end, to the joy of all. Indeed, she is the nastiest character in the whole book.
It’s also easy to dislike Fanny because of her shy and stuttering inarticulateness, and her dissolution into tears at the slightest provocation. This is annoying, but I think Jane Austen is sly here. None of the characters in the novel know or understand Fanny, and they all think they can control her--but they can’t. Not a single person, not even the awe-inspiring Sir Thomas, not even the worshipped Edmund, can persuade Fanny to accept a marriage that appears astoundingly fortunate and beneficial. Any other woman in her position would have swallowed her scruples and accepted Henry Crawford, but Fanny did not.
Which brings me to another point about Fanny--she is amazingly intuitive. As I read the novel, I found myself being annoyed by all the other perspectives shown to the reader, and began to wonder about it. Jane Austen doesn’t do this in any of her other novels, but here we are allowed to see exactly what other characters think and feel. This is not poor writing style (obviously, since it’s Jane Austen!); on the contrary, I think that she is emphasizing Fanny’s intuitive knowledge of the people around her. She sees their true characters and is not fooled by outward appearances or flowery speeches. She’s not even flattered by the Crawfords’ attentions, but instead is made highly uncomfortable by them because she knows they are insincere.
Fanny also sees the real desires behind the theatrical madness. It is not, as many have claimed, simply a group of young people wishing to entertain themselves with playacting at home. Rather, they want to playact so that they can express the desires that must remain hidden in their real lives. Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford want to flirt with each other, as do Edmund and Mary--there’s nothing innocent about the play or the emotions that it excites. Fanny recognizes this immorality, and refuses to take part.
It has also been said that Fanny does nothing throughout the novel--indeed, she rarely even speaks. And yet, everywhere she goes, she makes changes. She makes people notice her because she is not what they expect. She brings a small oasis of calm to her family home in Portsmouth, and improves the lives of her sisters Susan and Betsey with her small yet effective actions. She devotes herself to the comfort of her aunt Bertram, who might otherwise quickly devolve into a whining invalid. She is a much more devoted daughter to Sir Thomas than his real daughters, and shows him how to be a good father. I think she makes Mrs Norris and Mary Crawford uncomfortable as they recognize their own faults in comparison to her own steadfastness. She never breathes a word of her love to Edmund, and yet eventually he notices her as something other than a young cousin.
This is a book about goodness, about morality. It’s not about the romance (in fact, I suspect that the last rushed chapter is not because Jane Austen didn’t know how to end what she’d started, but to emphasize the real point of the novel), and there’s so much that happens. One just has to be patient, and dig deep, and trust in the brilliance of a literary genius.
Mansfield Park is different from the other Austens I’ve read (P&P, Sense and Sensibility and Emma) in that it is more serious in its concerns and more of a commentary on morality. But far from boring or preachy, Austen strikes a nice balance between those concerns and the humor and social observation included in her other works.
While I did wish Fanny Price had more spunk in some situations, the circumstances of her childhood and her being brought to Mansfield are such that her rather timid and retreating nature were understandable. Since Mansfield Park is not, to my mind, intended as a romantic work, the lack of chemistry between Fanny and Edmund also makes sense. Austen is less concerned with them as lovers than as moral figures whose interior compasses bring them inexorably together.
This is definitely not my favorite of the Austen novels I’ve read, but it is still entertaining and perhaps more thought-provoking.
I found Mansfield Park to be a good story but a bit difficult to read in terms of the pacing of the book. Many chapters went by with little story development only to have the denouement contain many rushed plot points that I craved further details about. Nevertheless, Austen's recipe ingredients of honorable young women, unrequited love, faithless cads in the disguise of noble suitors, and true love in the end still built an enjoyable book that I am happy to have read.
I admit that I struggled with the first third of the book as it seemed to be moving very slowly. I disliked the romantic lead of Edmund, finding him both stiff and priggish. I spent some time rooting for Fanny’s love to be bestowed on Charles, but he eventually showed his true colors and I was glad that Fanny had resisted him. As the story intensified, Mansfield Park grew on me and by the end of the book, I was sorry to have to leave these characters behind. As in most of Jane Austen’s books, this is an excellent social commentary as she examines, in particular, the social influences and the traditions and rules of courting and marriage.
While Fanny grew in her ambiguous role of lowly member of the household to become the most esteemed member of the family, so too did Mansfield Park grow in my opinion. Although the romance of these two cousins is difficult to accept in today’s world, there is still much to admire with the author’s exquisite prose and close observations of upper English society in the 1800’s.
I suspect that those kinds of reactions to this book occur because Fanny is so unlike Austen's other female main characters. She's shy, unassertive and a bit lacking in self-confidence; she doesn't burst out of the pages as does Elizabeth Bennet. I didn't find any of the prissiness or priggishness that some people ascribe to her—I perceived only that she had a set of principles to which she stuck quietly and, living as a poor relation with the Bertrams, a consciousness of not participating in activities that would offend the uncle whose charity pulled her out of poverty.
One of the things I enjoyed about this story was that the characters seemed a bit more human and a bit less like Regency "Stepford" gentry. Edmund, normally perceptive, loses it over a pretty face and nice figure despite the warning signs. Fanny, normally dutiful, sticks to her guns on her perception of Henry's character despite all of society telling her what she "should" think and feel. I also like the language of this story. It had a bit more dry humor, moments of tongue-in-cheek poking through in each chapter.
If you like Austen, I don't see any reason not to try this and make up your own mind.
She is miserable at first. Shy and timid by nature, frightened, homesick, and continually lectured by her Aunt Norris about how she should be grateful, life is not pleasant for Fanny. But things begin to change when her cousin Edmund shows kindness to her. His friendship helps her adjust to her new home, broaden her mind, and become a lady.
Their peaceful family life comes to an end when their father goes away on a lengthy business trip. About the same time, Mary Crawford and her brother move to the area. The young people strike up a friendship, and without the stabilizing influence of their father the Bertrams start to go down the wrong path. Fanny is the only one who seems to realize the Crawfords are a bad influence. But no one pays any attention to her.
I won't mention how things turn out because I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read this.
This is not my favorite Austen, but I liked it very much. In the beginning the treatment of Fanny both annoyed and depressed me. However, as she begins to grow and become more confident, the book really took off for me and I couldn't stop reading.
There are a lot of sections in this book that sound like sermons - probably because a main character becomes a clergyman - and I can see how that would be hard going for some. It's not as light and fun as other Austen novels. But it is still a very good book and a must read for Austen fans.
In Mansfield Park, young Fanny Price is shipped off to her aunt and uncle Bertram at the age of nine because her own parents are poor and have too many kids. Wow. She grows up provided for, but always as a bit of a Cinderella; the Lady Bertram is indolent and inattentive, and her other aunt in the area, Mrs. Norris, is a busybody who cruelly exerts her will on the household, denying, for example, a fire to ever be lit in Fanny’s fireplace. There are two older girls in the household, Maria and Julia, and two older boys, Tom and Edmund. It is with Edmund that she forms a bond as he has the humanity to care for her, and the two grow up into virtuous young adults.
Trouble comes when Henry and Mary Crawford move into the area. Henry begins flirting with both Maria and Julia, setting them against one another, and suggesting that they all put on a play in their house while their father is away in the West Indies. It was considered scandalous for daughters to act in plays, particularly those with content relating to love scenes, as it might taint their reputations. That’s hard for modern readers to swallow, but that’s the reality these characters were living in. Meanwhile, Edmund falls for Mary’s starry dark eyes and can’t see her true character, all of which is alarming to Fanny.
Chapter 19, which has the father returning from the West Indies, is brilliant. The buffoonery of Mr. Rushmore, a rich suitor for Maria, and the self-importance of Mrs. Norris, are quite funny. As the play is broken up, Crawford turns his attention to Fanny, and we’re set even more against him when he tells his sister that he “cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price’s heart”.
I find that much is made by readers of Fanny’s being a prig, and a boring, unlikeable character, and it’s surprising to me. She’s a bit like a young protagonist out of Dickens, and someone that I cared about. Consider this - can she go into the Navy like her brother William, the clergy like her beloved Edmund, or travel about, gambling and hunting like her profligate cousin Tom? No, she cannot. It’s important for a woman of her age to be pretty, and her choice is in making a good marriage. She has seen the effect of a bad one; her own mother's circumstances are appalling in comparison to those of her aunt at Mansfield. The dilemma she faces is Crawford’s inconstant character; he's a collector of hearts and doesn't have the sensitivity she sees in Edmund. It's a shock to everyone when she turns him down, and everyone around her expresses their displeasure and begins working on her to come around and accept him. They question whether she knows her own feelings, whether she is just in shock at the suddenness of the proposal, and if she knows how ungrateful and selfish she’s being. They lay it on thick, and in the meantime Crawford’s behavior improves. Poor Fanny! (And grrr.)
Austen was painfully aware of the choice facing Fanny, for at age 26 she received an offer of marriage which would have been of great benefit to her and her parents economically, but after an initial acceptance, realized the man behind the money was not someone she could love or even admire, and subsequently turned him down. There was great pressure in these situations; as she says in Mansfield Park, “being now in her twenty-first year, Maria Bertram was beginning to think matrimony a duty”. You could be damned if you marry for money and position (as Maria does), and you can be damned if you marry based on attraction (as her own mother had). Ultimately Austen is a romantic, believing love is of utmost importance, but that it must be ‘true love’, not passing infatuation.
In considering Austen, I’m guided by Virginia Woolf, who so correctly pointed out in A Room of One's Own, that Austen had few opportunities to travel or experience greater breadth in life, so in the narration of the novel, the scene does not shift to the frigate, the parsonage, London, or general roaming about. While in this novel it does have the effect of capturing Fanny's reality, hearing of many things only through letters or as related to her by another, we realize this was not a conscious choice of Austen's, it was a constraint. Austen was well read, but, for example, had never been to London. It’s absurd to me that there are contemporary critics, mostly male, who decry her lack of commentary on everything from the Napoleonic Wars to the steam engine to whaling. Austen was a bit of a caged bird, or a hothouse flower, beautiful but not wild and free, because of the age she lived in, and specifically because of men.
How can a woman remain true to herself in such a society, if she has no means of being independent? Be virtuous, she says, and marry out of love, and to a good man. To her credit, she does point out that the disgrace a man faces after an inappropriate dalliance was “less equal than could be wished”, and indeed, less than a woman’s. The last scene of Crawford’s sister giving Edmund a “saucy playful smile, seeming to invite” reflects that she’s well aware of improper behavior, she just doesn’t ‘go there’ to describe it. She’s a good author, and an important link in the chain for women. Last point: I liked how this edition includes copies of the illustrations Hugh Thomson did for an 1897 publication.
Just this quote, on nature:
“Fanny agreed to it, and had the pleasure of seeing him continue at the window with her, in spite of the expected glee; and of having his eyes soon turned like hers towards the scene without, where all that was solemn and soothing, and lovely, appeared in the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods. Fanny spoke her feelings. ‘Here’s harmony!’ said she, ‘Here’s repose! Here’s what may leave all painting and all music behind, and what poetry only can attempt to describe. Here’s what may tranquillise every care, and lift the heart to rapture! When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.”
Fanny Price is in a tight spot. Send to her aunt's family by the age of nine she is expected to show gratitude for the Bertrams kindness.
Yet, she is only tolerated, but not much more. Always slighted, ignored, like she's invisible. Surrounded by family members who makes her life intolerable. The nasty and intrigate Mrs. Norris, always meddling and putting Fanny in her place - the lowest place - the two silly vain nieces, the ever demanding Mrs. Bertram. The only person who understands her, defends her, have empathy for her is her dear cousin Edmund - But she can't always expect his help. Specially not when he's attracted to the beautiful and charming newcomer neighbour Miss Crawford.
Things get more complicated when Miss Crawfords brother, Henry, arrives and after a flirtation with the Bertram nieces, begin to show interest in Fanny and actually proposes. She's expected by everyone to say yes, but she doubts his character. Is he to be trusted? Here lies the moral dilemma and drama of the novel. The case of a character.
Fanny Price is always alone with her thoughts, almost never sharing them. We are invited into a heart that is very guarded, always prone to self-scrutiny, soul-searching and trying to evaluate or access others behavior. She know her faults and are willing to admit them to herself, she is too quickly put into distress, too timid, too guarded, too vulnerable. Too emotional. Yet ultimately her character is strong, she embodies, I think, many of the virtues that Jane Austen herself would appraise.
I'm still rather conflicted on this book. I initially found it to be rather slow and more than a little mean. While Austen's other books all have overriding concerns that drive the action, this one seems more cruel than anything else. Fanny, (undoubtedly Austen's least-loved heroine), is looked down upon, reviled and generally undervalued by her entire family. Austen presents Fanny's cousins and friends as cruelly shallow instead of humorously so, as is her usual wont. It grated on me. I didn't care about poor, timid, morally-upright Fanny and I actively disliked her relations.
And yet, I found it absolutely fascinating, from a social standpoint. Critics describe this novel as Austen's reaction to the social changes England was undergoing at the time. The world was becoming a slightly less formal place, at least within upper class circles. Austen contrasts this changing environment with that in which Fanny's birth family resides, and the lower class, informal folks most definitely come off the worse in the exchange. The novel presents impropriety and informality - even in such a simple form as stage acting - as something that can lead people astray in the most horrific, (ie, sexual), fashions. Fanny, who regards even something as strong as her love for Edmund with a disinterested eye, embodies this fading society. She refuses to allow herself to be ruled by her passions, and she will not stray from the rigid moral code that forms the backbone of her world.
The novel provided me with a great deal of food for thought. I had a great time mulling it over and thinking about how Austen's thesis applies to my own society. I can't say as I agree with her, in a broader sense, but she certainly did provide us all with a fascinating look at this changing world.
And, deeper issues aside, Austen's trademark language makes the book a delight to read from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Every sentence is so wonderfully ornate. Her writing twists and turns and goes in and out in these beautiful, complex ways... but at the end of the sentence, she's said something wonderfully simple. I love it.
This isn't the best of Austen's works, but it's certainly worth your time. Even if you dislike it, it has great rewards for anyone inclined to think about where Austen's going with these unlikeable characters and their world.
And that is the strength of this novel. Along with the amazing aunt Norris, Austen has created a whole host of wonderful characters and breathed life into them. From the dull idiot Mr. Rushworth, who is so taken by being given a role in the play the young people decide to put on that involves him learning forty-two speeches (which he is then unable to learn), to Lady Bertram, who approaches a sedentary lifestyle with the dedication of an Olympic hopeful; each character is so interesting in their own right that I wanted several times in this book for Austen to have written other novels following each of them.
Fanny is such an interesting character. She's been systematically berated and ignored until by the age of eighteen she is anxious in any situation where attention might be paid to her, but also resentful when it isn't. She's been ordered to be grateful for substandard treatment so often that she rarely speaks and when she does it's often in an Eeyore-ish passive aggressive way, not that it does her any good. Unless her cousin Edmund happens to be listening, her wishes are entirely disregarded. And so she sits, largely silent, with years of pent-up judgements and opinions inside of her. She's not an easy character to like, although Austen makes clear that while she is silently thinking the worst of the people around her, the face she shows is so quiet and unassuming, that people attribute great kindness to her. It helps that being so shy makes her a very good listener to all the narcissists that surround her, and that she is very pretty. Her improved looks are noticed first by her uncle who, after having spent some months away in Antigua, at the sugar plantation that provides the Bertram family their wealth, begins to talk about her and to her quite a bit, she now being worthy of his notice. It's all a little skeevy, and Fanny, quite rightly, remains terrified of him.
This being Austen, there is a question of the central characters, here Fanny Price and her cousin Edmund, finding spouses. Edmund, a solemn man, plans to enter the clergy and live a rural life, is simultaneously entranced and repulsed by Mary Crawford, who is light, quick-witted and bubbly. She tends to say any witty thing that pops into her head and she often shocks and insults Edmund inadvertently. Of course they can't leave each other alone, and they are each constantly reassessing whether they could be happy together. Then there's her brother Henry, who begins the novel as a flirt who is always looking for new ways to entertain himself and others. He determines to pay court to Fanny as a way of passing the time after all the other eligible young ladies have left the neighborhood, making a contest to himself of winning her affection. Instead, he falls in love while Fanny remains hostile to his advances. His admiration for her causes him to renounce his rakehell ways. Unfortunately, Fanny bore witness to his worst behavior and is disinclined to give his reformation any credit. She attempts to get rid of him several times, but between her inability to speak clearly enough for him to understand and his own determination to win her no matter how long it takes, they are often in each other's company.
We all know how things should turn out -- with a double wedding at the local chapel in the best Austen style, but she throws a curve ball in Mansfield Park, refusing, in the end, to satisfy the reader. And this is where I ran into a problem with this book; I wanted a different ending. I knew what would happen. I'd read the book before. But until the final chapters, I was hoping for it.
Said to have been one of Austen’s favourite heroines, Fanny is the “poor cousin,” charitably taken in by wealthy relatives. But while she may be inferior to her peers by birth, fortune, and education; she is undisputedly their superior by far, save Edmund, in modesty, morals, and behaviour. Beside Fanny, the appropriately condescending Miss Bertrams appear twittering, fickle, and silly. Tom Bertram is, in equal measures, outrageously wealthy and irresponsible. The Crawfords, questionably well meaning, are idle and misguided, “thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example.” (108) Only Edmund, younger brother to Tom, and a parson of modest means but superior morals, is able to stand as Fanny’s equal.
And so the stage of principal characters is set. But Austen also has great fun with the minor characters of Mansfield Park: the indolent Lady Bertram, example extraordinaire in the art of marrying well; her domineering but rich husband, Sir Thomas; the insufferable Mrs. Norris; Dr. and Mrs. Grant, the former best known for his ample appetite; and the unfortunate looking, but very wealthy, Mr. Rushforth – cuckolded in the end.
I enjoyed this re-read of Mansfield Park much more than my original read some years ago. Austen is delightful in her shrewd satire of the upper crust. A sample passage, one of many, illustrating her exceptional command of her writing (a single sentence!):
“The ensuing spring deprived her of her valued friend he old grey poney, and for some time she was in danger of feeling the loss in her health as well as in her affections, for in spite of the acknowledged importance of her riding on horseback, no measures were taken for mounting her again, ‘because,’ as it was observed by her aunts, ‘she might ride one of her cousins’ horses at any time when they did not want them,” and as the Miss Bertrams regularly wanted their horses every fine day, and had no idea of carrying their obliging manners to the sacrifice of any real pleasure, that time of course never came.” (34)
Fanny's cousin, Edmund, is very kind to her and takes time to talk to her and make her feel welcome. Fanny falls in love with Edmund over time, but a wealthy newcomer named Henry Crawford falls for Fanny. Fanny wants nothing to do with Henry. There are a whole bunch of love entanglements in the story but all ends well for Fanny.
I can see two reasons why people say this is their least favorite Jane Austen. One, the story takes a long time to start. You have to read about 1/3 of the book to get all the background and characters established before you can get to the good stuff. People probably lose interest and don't read it all the way through. Two, Fanny and Edmund are goody-two-shoes and nobody can relate to that. They can't even put on a play without feeling guilty and calling off the whole thing. Fanny gets out-of-breath just from taking a simple walk and needs to sit down and rest and be coddled all the time. They are always soliloquizing over moral issues and they can be pretty judgemental at times.
My favorite part of the book is when Fanny returns to her childhood home and is absolutely appalled at the chaos of the home and the brattiness of her siblings. "The boys begging for toasted cheese, her father calling out for his rum and water, and Rebecca never where she ought to be." "The three boys burst into the room together... still kicking each other's shins and hallooing out at sudden starts immediately under their father's eye." Her family offers her tea that never appears because the servant girl always wanders away, her sisters keep fighting over a knife, and there are so many kids in the family that nobody seems to even know who she is or why she is there. Of all Jane Austen's books, this is the only window we get into the life of the poor. The image we get is brilliant - so full of energy and recklessness and hilarity in comparison to the wealthy, stuffy characters her stories mostly focus on.
Although I can appreciate Austen's wit and shrewd social observations, her characters - and the matches they make in those final chapters - are why I will always keep coming back to my top three novels, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensiblity. Sadly, Fanny Price and Edmund Betram are all too easily forgettable; I wish them well, but my imagination doesn't insist on creating romantic fancies of what life holds for them after I close the cover, as with Darcy and Elizabeth or Emma and Mr Knightley.
Fanny is admirable, believable and sympathetic - I know only too well what it is like to be 'almost as fearful of notice and praise as other women are of neglect' - but she is not the most exciting heroine ever penned. After years of living like Cinderella at Mansfield, she deserves a happy ending, yet she only seems to win the man of her dreams by default, because she and Edmund are the only two young people left morally unscathed by the end of the book. Edmund, younger son and clergyman in training, is dull, pompous and obtuse, as befits his role. I felt more pity for his predicament in Amanda Grange's Edmund Bertram's Diary than Austen herself excites throughout the whole of the novel. Idiot boy.
Mary Crawford, however, is wonderfully charming, superficial and destructive. In a modern rewrite of Mansfield Park, her character would survive intact, whereas Fanny Price would probably have an affair with Henry just to teach Edmund a lesson, and get to lamp the poisonous Mrs Norris (and I would actually read such a treament!) I don't hate Fanny for being virtuous and 'mentally superior' to everyone else, but where is the fun in being right all of the time?
The story itself is slowly paced, with much introspection and padding, and also rather blatant in its lofty moral symbolism - the staging of 'Lover's Vows' as a play, and the whole Sotherton incident, with Maria leaving the confines of her husband's estate to explore the wilderness beyond. The final chapters are the most exciting and worth waiting for, but the 'scandal' is barely mentioned in passing before being quickly dismissed, with the good characters (Fanny) receiving their reward, while the spoiled, selfish and wayward sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters, are shamed. I know this is how most of Austen's novels are concluded, but the ending of Mansfield Park - when it finally came - felt forced to me.
Mansfield is a leisurely tale following the Bertram family and its Price transplant through marital negotiations and trips to the country and financial threats no one seems to grasp the true dangers of. If the Antigua estates really had failed or been lost, it seems there would have been drastic repercussions; also, an ocean voyage in the 1800's was never anything to take lightly, much less travel in the third world. There was a strong underlying tone of menace to the Messrs. Bertram while they were away, but the at-home family seemed to continue perfectly sanguine. Except for Fanny, who is as gifted at Worrying as my mother, and that's pretty extraordinarily gifted.
Fanny. Oh, Fanny. She's just so … nice. She's so nice I want to throw an expletival qualifier in there, and I can't; this is Jane Austen I'm talking about. She's timid and fragile and sweet, and obliging and not as delicate as she seems, and sweet. And meek, and … when I right-click on "meek", Word gives me synonyms: humble, submissive, gentle, docile, modest, compliant, and mild. And sweet. Far from a backbone, there isn't a vertebra in the girl's entire body. Her entire skeletal system seems to be made of cartilage. Jane Bennet is sweet and modest and docile too, but by golly she can stand up for herself or someone she loves if need be. I think in a confrontation Fanny might simply cry, and then faint. Not a character much admired in this day and age.
But she's so sweet.
I saw someone's Goodreads status update for P&P commenting on how much he appreciated the writing and the characters, but he was on such and such page and … nothing … was … happening. I have never found that with P&P. Mansfield Park, however … oh my. Fanny comes to Mansfield … nothing … Mr. Bertram and Tom go away … nothing … the Crawfords move in … nothing … Tom comes back … protracted space of nothing … Lovers' Vows and things happen for a few chapters and then Mr. Bertram comes home and everything comes to a screeching halt and … nothing … That, combined with the extreme meekness of Fanny, makes for a surprisingly leisurely and … well, dull story. For the most part we share no one's thoughts but Fanny's, and hers are so very athletically self-effacing and charitable – even to Mrs. Norris, one of the people least deserving of charity in this novel, if not ever – that events are not exactly moved along. It's a jolt when, briefly and rarely, we are made privy to conversations between Mary and Henry Crawford, laced with languorous malice.
Perhaps the purpose of this day-to-day gentle unfolding of story is to focus the reader on the small things that do happen. In a modern setting, the concerns which beset Fanny would be almost nothing. Certainly the drama surrounding the play would be non-existent; it would trouble no one that a group of upper class young folk would do an amateur play, even if it was a bit racy. But given the placid pond that rock dropped into, there is a very real tension and concern about the morality of it all.
And perhaps the intent in making Fanny so stunningly selfless was to make it so very ironic when Mr. Bertram berates her for selfishness. Her reasons for doing what she does are partly selfish, but only a very small part; she can't explain without telling him things he doesn't want to know, which she would consider a betrayal of others. From that moment on Fanny's life becomes a nightmare. The wrong interpretation is put on her actions, and every word she says to Edmund or her uncle is contradicted or ignored. Every. Single. Word.
"I don't believe I can love him." "Certainly you can."
"We are so very different." "No you're not."
"I don't want to talk to you." "You say that, but what exactly do you mean? Tell me!"
"I don't want to talk about it." "Well, we must, and I must tell your aunts. Oh, and your cousin. His sister and their entire staff already knows. We won't talk to you about it if you wish, not above two or three times. A day."
"I will never marry him!" "I wonder what we should give you as a wedding present …"
"No!" "You mean maybe!"
It's horrifying. And, again, I've been there. You can say anything, and you might as well be speaking Aramaic from the response. Poor Fanny.
My GR status update from Chapter 35: I'm 73% done with Mansfield Park: In the midst of Ch. 35; I don't know how this story ends. I've seen spoilers both ways: that she marries Edmund, and that she doesn't. And right now I can honestly say that if she marries him I ... shall be most provoked. I want to shoot him in this chapter. (Which makes a change from wanting to shake Fanny.)
A bit more is on my blog.
Sir Thomas Bertram, a kindly man, if strict parent, is married to the middle of three sisters, and she is seen as lucky to have married above her station in life. Her youngest sister has married below her, and as well as struggling financially, already has nine children with another on the way. Their eldest sister, Mrs Norris, childless and rather shrewish, lives nearby. She proposes they adopt the eldest girl, Fanny Price, and bring her to Mansfield Park to grow up alongside her cousins - but she should always know that she would not be their equal. Under Mrs Norris's guidance (whose altruism doesn't extend to taking in the young girl herself), shy, timid Fanny, who has been taken away from everything and everyone she knows, is neglected (but not treated cruelly) by the household, except for her cousin Edmund. As they grow up, she secretly falls in love with him, but she is so shy and retiring that nobody notices. And then all the cousins do grow up, and as they reach marriageable age, new young people enter the neighbourhood ... Will Fanny win her Edmund, or will they each fall in love with someone else?
As we read, we are also shown the acceptable standards of the morals and manners of Jane Austen's day, albeit in a country setting, rather than London - where the standards are a bit more relaxed.
I must reluctantly confess that, much as I love Jane Austen, and enjoyed this book, I didn't find it as humourous as 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Sense and Sensibility'. I read all the major Austens years ago, and I think I liked the ending then; this time, with a vague idea of how things would end, I would have preferred the alternative ending that Austen mentions in the book itself.
I had no internet connection and so there were no distractions, but this meant also that I could not google for background information and so this first reading was very much a first impression. I have read other novels by Jane Austen and so it was not a complete leap in the dark, but it did lead me to think of issues that modern readers might face, when approaching this book for the first time.
Austen’s sentence structure and syntax can be a little confusing, especially when she is reporting conversation. It is not always easy to understand who is saying what to whom: she also writes the occasional word in a paragraph in italics which I presume is for emphasis, but this style is not much used today. An omniscient author writes the first three chapters and by this time Fanny Price (the heroine) is approaching seventeen; most of the subsequent events are seen through her eyes, however Austen does add her own commentary from time to time and the reader has to be aware whether the views expressed are authorial or those which Fanny might be saying or thinking.
The novel was published in 1814 at a time when Europe was still engaged in the Napoleonic wars, the French revolution was still very much in the minds of many educated people and Austen’s novel reads for the most part like a celebration of English traditions and manners. It is almost as though the industrial revolution had not yet taken place as the novel is firmly situated amongst the genteel rich patrons of the English countryside. The class system is firmly in place and in Austen’s characters views, everybody should know their place and more importantly for the most part keep to it; rights according to birth are sacrosanct. It is a novel that looks backwards to a golden age rather than forward to a changing society, respect for ones betters according to birthright is the accepted norm.
In Austen’s world family and property defines who you are and people are judged by their manners, politeness and how well they do by their family. The family grows rich together and marriages are seen as a means of enhancing a family’s connections: arrangements are made and while suitability is a consideration; love is something that may develop in time, but is mostly accepted as not being prerequisite for an ideal marriage. Feminism has no place in this society and although readers might be encouraged to admire the resolve of female characters, they will find them castigated if they stray too far from accepted family values.
The profession of clergymen was still at this time the most likely avenue for the second son of a well to do family. In Mansfield Park the first son (Tom) will inherit everything and so it is Edmund who will follow the traditional career path as the second son. For Edmund being a clergyman is a vocation. He sees it as a unifying force within his community and he will do his best to succeed in guiding his flock for the betterment of mankind, prayers, sermons and preaching are essential requisites for the community. Edmund is the steady hand of tradition in his family and the son most admired.
Throughout the novel there is resistance to change. The fashion for landscape gardens advocated by Henry Crawford is a step to far for Edmund. Sir Thomas Bertram head of the family is an authoritarian figure who immediately puts a stop to a theatrical event at his house. Fanny Price the adopted daughter of the Bertram household is perhaps the most resistant of all to change and it is she as the central character that seems to pose the most problems for readers. She is non-assertive, meek, mild and an upholder of family values. She seems always to put other people first and suffers in silence as a result. But this novel is essentially a bildungsroman and Fanny Price’s development as a person becomes a shinning example to some of those around her; Edmund, Tom, her brother William, Sir Thomas himself are all affected by her good heart, her respectability and finally an inner strength. She is the embodiment of all that a woman should be to fit into this patriarchal society and this in depth study demonstrates the qualities and strengths needed to uphold the values in which she instinctively believes.
The raison d’être for the novel is of course a romance. The Bertram family have two sons and two daughters of marriageable age. Maria Bertram the beauty of the family marries for money and position, with the wholehearted support of the family, her sister Julia tries to make her own opportunities. Edmund falls in love with Miss Mary Crawford a society woman of independent means, but she does not wish to marry a clergyman. The central love story is Mary’s brother the forward looking wealthy Henry Crawford who falls in love with Fanny after a dalliance with the two Bertram sisters. A match that would seem to be a superb opportunity for an adopted daughter with few prospects. Fanny against all advice rejects Henry, she finds him fascinating, with some good qualities, but she does not love him and most seriously of all she cannot trust him. The third part of the novel is Henry’s continued pursuit of Fanny; a suit that causes her grief and pain.
Austen takes her readers into the world of Regency splendour. The culture and manners of that society are brilliantly evoked. There are some amazing set pieces; the amateur production of the play Lovers Vows, Fanny’s first trip out with her new family to Sotherton, her coming out ball and her banishment back to her working class family in Portsmouth. At the centre of everything is Fanny Price’s world and inner world views. It is steady, respectable, dutiful and gracious, which makes her at times seem almost an anti-heroine, she is physically weak and lacks assertiveness, but her strength is her firm belief in tradition and family values.
To appreciate this novel fully one must not judge Mansfield Park by modern standards or by equality of opportunity. It is a different world brought richly to life and full of characters whose human frailties can be ameliorated by a central character; a virtuous woman working away quietly amongst them. The story is a good one, once the reader gets used to the writing style and has got further into the novel than the story setting it becomes a page turner. So much to enjoy, a fabulous reading experience and five stars.
It is a darker book and more serious in tone than I had imagined. The protagonist Fanny is far less appealing superficially than many of Austen's other female leads: passive, sickly, dully dutiful and always right, but oddly I grew to like her very much. She is certainly not as attractive and likeable as Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, for example. She is a stoic and endures rather than actually *doing* anything; she is the moral centre while all the other characters are in flux, even her beloved Edmund, who supposedly instilled in her all that is of value. She is not immune to pressures or temptations, but she recognises them for what they are and does not succumb.
It's classic Austen territory with town and country values at odds, while taking a more complex and nuanced approach to her usual themes than other of her works led me to expect.
It was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the novel, and it has meant that I have begun to revisit her other works. Pride and Prejudice was an awful lot funnier than I remembered it, so there's definitely something to be said for going back to those books that you couldn't get on with first time around. I wonder if it's that I'm older or that I'm reading for my own pleasure rather than for a school or college course?
n this novel, the ten year old Fanny Price is taken from her poor parents' home to live at Mansfield Park and be brought up with her rich cousins. Here the difference in class becomes very apparent, her cousins feel superior to her so they ignore her most of the time, however her cousin Edmund is different and he becomes Fanny's only friend. While her uncle is away in Antigua, the Crawford's arrive in the neighborhood and as they become closer to the family the story unravels into a moral and social dilemma.
It started a little slow and halfway through the book I was still waiting for something to happen, it just seemed to dwell on the day-to-day lives of the Bertrams and the Crawfords, without giving much importance to Fanny. I found some of the characters in this book to be really hateful, I especially hated Mrs. Norris and how she treated Fanny, taking credit where it was not deserved and spoiling Fanny's cousins. At times I just wanted to talk some sense into their heads to stop being so selfish. The two characters that I liked from the very beginning were Fanny for how sensible she was and Edmund for how kind he was to his cousin when everyone else pretty much ignored her, and as the story developed I also started liking Sir Thomas Bertram more and more. The last two hundred pages is when the story started to get really interesting. I really wanted Henry Crawford to be successful in his quest, I believed that Fanny changed him. I certainly was not expecting the ending, it seemed that the character's lives were too dull for such things to happen to them so it came as a surprise to me, and although I was disappointed in some of them I was also very happy with how it ended. At the end of the the book I realized that the time spent getting to know the characters in the beginning was well worth it because it gives you a better understanding of their actions.
I love the detail that Jane Austen puts into her characters, it makes you feel like you know these people and you're part of the story. Although Mansfield Park is not as edgy as Pride and Prejudice, it's still a great classic and I would recommend it to any classics or Jane Austen fan.