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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?