Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

#24 in my 2007 book challenge was Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

My book challenge is a self-set goal of fifty books for the year. It’s July and I’m not yet halfway, so my goal is more challenging this year than it’s been in the past. I set the goal to remind myself that reading is a priority, though it can be hard to make time while caring for two small children.

We all have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.–Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.

Why is poor Fanny Price so reviled a heroine? That strikes me as blaming the victim, or kicking someone when she’s down. This was my sixth major Austen novel, of six. I found it more intricately plotted than Austen’s earlier works, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t enjoy it nearly so much as I did the latter, but it impressed me more. Written ten years after the drafts of the previous three, Mansfield Park sustains a strong undercurrent of dread up till the end: what will happen to Fanny, the poor relation of the Bertram family? Like other Austen heroines, Fanny is admirable, but flawed. She is ethical and thoughtful to a fault, but frail, sickly, and shrinking. Many critiques of the book decry that she does not change, but she does. She is both physically and emotionally stronger by the end, and has a greater appreciation for her worth and her powers of discernment.

Mansfield Park defied a quick reading; I was often frustrated by my slow progress through it. In the end, though, I found it both intriguing and rewarding. I felt spurred to further research about it because I found it so different from the other five Austen novels I’ve read (complex, sinister, judgmental) and yet the same (nice girl marries nice boy in the end; good things happen to good people, and bad people get their just deserts!)

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

I wonder at my auto-didactic leanings. Have they come to me with age, or were they imparted to me later in life by wise teachers, which I mostly lacked for in my youth? If I’d read this in high school, I would not have finished it. I would have used the Cliff Notes to write my paper, for which I’d earn an A. I’m so glad I’ve learned patience and appreciation. Both helped me persevere through a tough read, and beyond it to additional study.

2 Responses to “Mansfield Park by Jane Austen”

  1. Kate Says:

    Nooo! I just wrote a long response which was lost!

    I completely agree with you regarding the length of time it took me to read the book. As I mentioned elsewhere, this book took me far longer than I anticipated, and I even had to set it down and do/read other things before picking it back up.

    I also agree that Fanny seems to be unfairly maligned. I’m not sure what’s behind that other than she doesn’t have the same color to me as Elizabeth Bennett. She’s a very different Austin character. My mom said she (and others, she’s an English prof), read Mansfield Park as a farce rather than straight. It makes for an interesting read, because the book becomes funnier when I believe Austin is poking fun at some of her characters.

    However, while I enjoyed it, and while this might be a symptom of the increasing complexity of the story, I didn’t fall into it like her other books. I can lose myself in Pride and Prejudice each time, but with Mansfield Park, I always felt like I knew I was working through this book. Not a bad thing, but a different experience.

    A friend of mine, when she was in grad school, would scan the syllabi of all the English classes offered, looking for when they would discuss Mansfield Park. She marked the days on the calendar (”Mansfield Park day!”) and sit in on them all, whether she was in the class or not. I don’t really have that feeling about the book at all.

    On another note, I just finished Bangkok Haunts–the hooker certainly does NOT have heart of gold in this one. Well worth the read, and it felt more like B8 to me than Bangkok Tattoo. Now I’m just spinning my wheels till Saturday rolls around with my Potter book.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Argh, Kate, I hate losing comments. I do have to approve them before they appear, though, so that might explain a delay. I’m having a hard time imagining MP as a farce. I just watched the 1999 movie last night, which I’ll have an entry about soon. It was a good movie, but definitely an adaptation since many liberties were taken in departing from the text, and it was more clearly farcical than the novel. I don’t see MP being more farcical than, say, Northanger Abbey, P & P or Emma. All of them contained class commentary, serious issues, comical characters, and sly skewerings. I like your friend’s idea of attending MP classes. I’ve accumulated a huge list of links about it, and seriously doubt whether I’ll have time to follow even a fraction of them, but I’m hungry to learn more about the book. The cover of the dvd said it was Austen’s favorite. I wonder if Fanny–ethical and good to a fault, with no habit of running her mouth off–was a character Austen wished she were more like.

    I’m thrilled to hear you liked the new Bangkok book. There was such a qualitative difference for me between 8 and Tattoo, and I’m heartened to hear you think it’s more like 8, which I loved. I just finished chapter 11 in HP, and wish I had all the time in the world to read. Story of my life. Ha!