Tuesday 20 August 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I know the pleasure of rereading Jane Austen intimately.

I know that to reread Austen is to delve deeper into the intricacies of her characters, to appreciate her sparkling dialogue, her wit, her clever use of letters, her ability to use free indirect speech is remarkable, as is her use of contrast and irony to craft her novels into such beautiful shapes.

I've reread Pride and Prejudice & Persuasion almost too many times to count. Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Northanger Abbey have been reread 2-3 times each. I've also watched most of the BBC TV series, movies and spin-off of the various novels numerous times....except for Mansfield Park.

I've never seen a movie or BBC production of it and I've read it only once - many, many years ago.

Until now!
For Austen in August I decided it was time to reread Mansfield Park. To see if a reread would reveal the intricacies and complexities and the beauty of Jane Austen in a similar way to her other novels.

To cut a long story short...it did.

I remembered the basic storyline, but there were so many details that I had forgotten, it was like reading something completely new.

Except for the fact that it seemed so familiar at the same time!

I kept seeing parallels between characters in MP to many of JA's other books.

Fanny's delicate health reminded me of Anne Eliott's. Her extreme shyness brought to mind Georgiana Darcy. Julia and Maria were kindred spirits with the Musgrove sisters as well as Bingley's sisters. Indolent, sleepy Mrs Bertram was Mr Hurst. Mrs Norris was the obnoxious wife of John in Sense and Sensibility. Miss Crawford reminded me of Isabella in Northanger Abbey and Henry Crawford had a touch of the Wickham's.

But MP does have some surprises.

We know that JA likes her main characters to be flawed - they make mistakes and learn from them. So when we see Henry Crawford moving from using Fanny as a plaything to really appreciating her values, we suspect that this could be the relationship that Fanny also needs to bring her out of herself.

We also see the potential for Mary Crawford to grow and mature.

Except for this one, telling moment...when Mary and Henry are discussing his plans for Fanny, Mary says, "I know that a wife you loved would be the happiest of women, and that even when you ceased to love, she would find in you the liberality and goodness of a gentleman." (my italics)

Ceased to love????
No, no, no. That won't do!

As we know, the marriages of this time were not always happy affairs - that many were mercenary, loveless arrangements. However JA's oeuvre is all about her favourite couples marrying for love. A love that is well considered, well suited and designed to stand the tests of time.

The fact that Mary & Henry don't take marrying for a lifetime of love seriously is a critical flaw in their characters. From this point on you know that Henry (& Mary) are not going to be capable of the change that JA usually allows her favourites.

And maybe that's why the ending of this book is a little unsatisfying.
The growth and change in Edmund to appreciate Fanny is not dramatic enough and happens in the last few pages of the story almost as an after thought. He learns that all that glitters is not gold!

Fanny's character development spans the entire book but is also very subtle. She learns to stand up for herself which is actually a pretty major achievement for an extremely shy person, but her love for Edmund stays strong despite lack of encouragement or even hope.

I enjoyed MP far more than I anticipated. As a shy person myself, I felt for Fanny and applauded her many acts of bravery and courage. Edmund was a bit of a dick for pretty much the entire novel, but you could see that his misadventures in love would make him forever grateful and appreciative of the life he would have with Fanny. And it was obvious that their love would mature into a satisfying, enriching lifelong relationship. Shy, quiet, serious people deserve to find the loves of their lives too :-)


  1. Anonymous20/8/13

    Just hopped over to read your thoughts! Nice post, and agree mostly with what you said, but I'm still convinced that Fanny had deserved better. ;-) I like especially your explaining why Henry won't do. I must admit that there was a time, while I was reading MP, that I sympathised with Henry and wished he could change for the better. But that wasn't meant to be...

    BTW, that Folio edition looks wonderful! Do you own THAT?

    1. Yes I have a lovely Folio editon boxed set of all JA's books :-)

  2. Anonymous22/8/13

    I felt the same way about the "happy" ending. It happened so suddenly and business-like, but ultimately I was happy that Fanny got her man!

  3. I had such a similar reaction! My post will be up on the 30th, but it's interesting that it really took a second read for me to "get" Masnfield Park. I understood Fanny more this time, but I still didn't enjoy the ending. You're exactly right, it feels like an after thought.

  4. I like how you find parallels to another Austen characters and how you underline the main reason Mary and Henry can't have a happy ending in an Austen novel. Their discussions of Fanny were really horrible sometimes, and Mary's notions are very mercenary and callous. But in spite of all their faults, I still find the Crawfords much more interesting that Fanny or Edmund... At least they are not boring :)

    1. The Crawfords were interesting story fodder but ultimately not very likeable. In real life they would be difficult people to live with - unreliable, selfish and untrustworthy. I wouldn't wish that kind of insecurity & disrespect on Fanny or Edmund.

  5. My hopes are much higher for the book now! So many people think Fanny is a hopeless wet fish, but the shyness of Anne in Persuasion endeared me to her, as I'm a shy person too. I am going to have to work hard not to imagine Billie Piper (? Rose from Doctor Who? I'm hopeless with actors) as Fanny though.
    Fabulous review, can't wait to see what I think!

  6. Interesting review. I really like how you compare other Austen characters. That was lingering in the back of my head when I read the book. I see that MP is her third book and some of the characters appeared in books before. Somehow, I think she has used MP as a 'manual' where she has put all her characters inside, just to develop them more elsewhere.
    As I have stated before, I don't like this book. It took me for ever to read, and I had to force myself to read a chapter a day! The ending was, as you say, rather abrupt, and it was like she got tired of the book and wanted to finish it. Right so, it is far too long, without any real happenings.
    Having said that, it is in a way a quite realistic view on life at the time. The country genteel, the London people, the wealth based on colonial properties etc. But, I am sorry to say; my least favourite of her books. I love all of the others, I even came to term with Emma which was my most difficult read so far! Just imagine all the things she has to say to us, make us live in her world and get involved in it.

    1. Your comment sums up exactly how I felt about MP after my first read too. I never thought I'd reread it AND come to regard it so highly (except for the ending).

      I'm so glad I did though. I suspect I will reread it again one day in the not too distant future, as I have an annotated version on my TBR pile :-)

      I'm glad this hasn't put you off the rest of JA though.


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