Review: Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park
Author:
Jane Austen
Genre:
Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1814
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.

Overview

From its sharply satiric opening sentence, Mansfield Park dealas with money and marriage, and how strongly they affect each other. Shy, fragile Fanny Price is the consummate “poor relation.” Sent to live with her wealthy uncle Thomas, she clashes with his spoiled, selfish daughters and falls in love with his son. Their lives are further complicated by the arrival of a pair of witty, sophisticated Londoners, whose flair for flirtation collides with the quiet, conservative country ways of Mansfield Park.

Review
I need to be clear when I say that by no means did I hate Mansfield Park. I gave it three stars, and by Goodreads standing that means “I liked it.” To be even more clear, it was better than OK, but I did not love it.

My main issue with the novel is how annoyed I became with certain characters and situations. A few examples of this are the obsession with putting on a play without success, Henry Crawford’s persistence of Fanny Price’s hand in marriage without success, and Mary Crawford’s leading Edmund Bertram on throughout the novel. I understand a lot of that is meant to be comical, but sometimes comedy can become too drawn out.

If you’ve been following my Austen reviews, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn that I cannot stand the Crawford siblings or the Bertram sisters. The Crawford siblings working together to trick Fanny into accepting the necklace from Henry is low indeed, as is Mary’s overwhelming support of Henry’s pursuit of Fanny when deep down she knows Fanny has no interest. As for the Bertram sisters, shame on Maria for making Rushworth believe she fancied him, and greater shame for her running away with Henry at the end of the novel. (Lydia and Wickham, anyone?) Julia isn’t nearly as bad, of course, but she’s still no saint. Eloping with Yates somehow didn’t surprise me, but I was peeved when she shows no interest in returning from her time away to see her family when they need her. They’re all insufferable character who act for their own benefit.

Mrs. Norris is the aunt from hell. She’s up in everyone’s business, and she verbally abuses Fanny at every opportunity. The worst part is how she dictates over a household that isn’t even hers. She attempts to put her sister and brother-in-law in their place when she disagrees with them, though she is a guest in their home. I was happy to see her sent away at the end of the novel with Maria. Good riddance.

As for Edmund, the hero to the heroine, I must admit that I did not love him the way I’ve loved the other gentlemen in Austen’s novels. While his heart is in the right place, he’s too easy to manipulate, as seen with Mary. He is also a rather flighty character, as is his father, Sir Thomas. Their stance on situations tends to quickly change based on the newest development, and a negative view can easily change to a positive one. And finally, Mrs. Bertram is simply needy and selfish. She’s not as mean-spirited as Mrs. Norris, but she’s no peach either.

If you are finding any of this harsh, I encourage you to take a deep breath and slowly let it out. I did give this novel three stars, after all. All things considered, I do like a lot of the overall plot and themes within the novel. A child from an unfortunate upbringing being sent to live with family who are better off has always interested me, so I was initially attracted to that part of the novel, and it worked for me. I also appreciate Austen making a statement with the characters that some people are able to change and grow overtime, while others will always be insufferable.

Favorite Character
I’m having trouble choosing a favorite this time around, to be honest. I became annoyed with most of the characters for various reasons stated above, and there isn’t even a love-to-hate character. There are good moments for some characters, but not really any outstanding situation where I fell in love with them like Austen’s other characters. I did admire Fanny holding firm (for once) when refusing Mr. Crawford time and time again…and again. And. Again. If I were to choose a favorite, it would be her because of that and her general kindness towards others. I sympathize for her being used as a doormat most of her life, but those characters tend to be pitied overall more than admired. To clarify, my favorite for this novel is Fanny, but putting all favorites together from the Austen collection, she’d be at the bottom.

Favorite Quotes

Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope for a cure.

Oh, do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.

Recommend?
It’s important to read Mansfield Park when doing a study of Austen, but if you were wanting to read one or two of her works, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s at the bottom of my Austen pile.

Discussion Question
If you are a fan of this novel (I know some say it’s their favorite), what do you like about it?
Since I had so much trouble with a favorite character, who is yours? Why?

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17 thoughts on “Review: Mansfield Park

  1. Oh that’s so sad no one likes this. I think this is one of my favorite Austen novels. There are some parts I don’t like and that drag out too long but I think Fanny as a leading Austen ladies is one she used to say the most about society, with perhaps the exception of her unfinished works. Austen really hits you over the head in this novel with the idea that you are what your family (read, society) makes you and powerfully that’s enough for you – or not in Austen’s own personal case.

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    • I do agree that Fanny’s character says a lot about society. Austen is definitely making a statement with this novel. That’s another reason I can’t discredit it – every novel of hers has literary merit for their own reasons, and they all have a message.

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  2. Ha! We seem to agree on most of your points 🙂 I also gave Mansfield Park three stars and I also felt annoyed by aunt Norris, the fickle Bertram sisters, the selfish Crawford siblings and Edmund’s indecision. There wasn’t really a person to love, because Fanny… well, let’s say that I think her sister Susan would have made a better heroine. Fanny’s moral judgment and sensibility are fine, but she’s too silent, too timid and way too weak for my liking.

    Did you also think the ending was a bit rushed? The book itself took ages to read (at least, that is how I felt. And probably what Adam is feeling, because he’s still about halfway ;)) and then suddenly we come to a conclusion! :S

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    • How did I forget to write about Susan!?! And her brother. Wow, I’m terrible. Oh well, not turning back now. And yes, I did feel that the ending was rushed! How is it that the longer novels suddenly end? You had ALL THAT TIME to draw out your ending, and it cuts off. I feel like Austen has done that before. I’m at the remaining few chapters and the hero/heroine still aren’t together yet. I realize their journey getting to that point is lengthy, but it always feels rushed at the end. So strange.

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  3. The theme of money and marriage intrigues me but to be honest I could not stand “Pride and Prejudice.” I understand for many contextual reasons it’s “important,” but to me the plot read much like a soap opera.

    “Jane Eyre” I enjoyed a bit more, but again it had so much promise but devolved into nothing more than a predictable romance. I guess that’s the point though.

    What would you say Austen’s best work is? Does she have any short fiction? I imagine she’d write a superb short story.

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    • Austen was most interested in writing novels, so she doesn’t have a lot of short work. Love and Freindship (misspelled on purpose) features a few shorts she wrote when she was a young teenager. There’s also Lady Susan that is in epistolary form. She began two other novels but never finished them, titled The Watsons and Sanditon. I wrote reviews of all of those works if you’re interested. Apart from that, she focused on novels.

      I am “on the fence” about a favorite Austen work. I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice, but Persuasion also became a favorite. Since you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, I’d recommend trying Persuasion next. I understand the “predictable romance” idea. Austen wanted her characters to have everything they desired after a bit (or a lot) of struggle, so while the ending may feel predictable, the journey along the way never is, at least in my opinion.

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  4. Pingback: Weekly Round-up for September 4, 2012 « The Classics Club

  5. This book wasn’t my favorite either. Fanny really annoyed me. But I read a review recently by a woman who thinks this is Austen’s best because she really likes the character development. It’s all taste. 🙂

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