This is the fourth book that I read for Advent with Austen. Unfortunately, I did not finish it in time! Christmas is always a distraction, but this isn’t the only excuse I have for taking so long to read Mansfield Park. I think I was just feeling a bit tired of Jane Austen. However sharp and witty her writing is, and however engaging the storyline, there is only so much romance and society that I can take – even when Austen is poking fun.
Mansfield Park is different from the other Austen books I have read. It is mostly set in the home of Sir Thomas Bertram, where he lives with his docile wife, two sons and two daughters. Living nearby is the unforgettable Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram’s pushy, money saving sister who seems to be included in all of the family’s decision making.
One particular decision that Mrs. Norris helps to make is the invitation of her and Lady Bertram’s not so well off niece, Fanny Price, to come and be brought up in the far superior environment of Mansfield Park. Sir Thomas means well and hopes that his kindness and charity will help the poor girl. He doesn’t think much about how Fanny will be feeling, being dragged from her family home to live among strangers and expects her to be grateful and not forget her place – below that of his own children. Mrs. Norris is only glad to have someone to complain about and help with chores. Poor Fanny Price is a nervous and sickly girl, worried about everything and in constant fear of Sir Thomas and the rest of the family. The spoilt Miss Bertrams, Maria and Julia are forever making fun of her lack of knowledge and schooling. Fanny’s only comfort is in her much more caring cousin, Edmund, who can see her for what she really is.
At first, this rather different heroine is not all that interesting. After the more independent, tomboyish or passionate of Austen’s characters such as Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, some people may find it difficult to care much about Fanny. I will encourage you to persevere though! I much prefer Fanny to the dull Anne from Persuasion and she really grows as a character the more you read. Instead of lacking personality, the reader begins to realise that Fanny has a sweet disposition with huge self esteem problems and a heart that only wishes to do good.
The plot certainly improves as the book goes along, introducing new characters such as Edmund’s love interest, Miss Crawford and her brother Henry. Henry Crawford is a colourful character who I found hard to dislike. He is a terrible flirt, causing jealousies and broken hearts wherever he goes, but when he is upsetting the Miss Bertrams, I could not help but feel glad! Will he be able to pull the wool over Fanny’s eyes though?
When I finally settled down to read this book properly after Christmas, I became very involved in all the happenings at Mansfield Park. The changing stories and developing characters made me feel as though I had really got to know and understand them. Mansfield Park is set over a longer time period than the other Austen books that I have read so far. Maybe this is why the character development is much clearer and more realistic.
I also loved the way that Jane Austen keeps you guessing about the ending. I really had no idea how the book would end, which characters would end up together, which characters would be heart broken, or whether I would even find out! Although this had me worried for the happiness of some of my favourites, it was a nice surprise to be so anxious and impatient!
I will not give away the ending, but you should try reading this yourself and be pleasantly surprised with this not so normal Jane Austen novel.
8 thoughts on “Mansfield Park – Jane Austen”
Excellent review! I like Fanny a lot, but I’m not a fan of Edmund. I always end up wishing there was someone better for her to end up with.
Thank you! I did like Edmund, but I have to say I much preferred Henry Crawford when he started being more polite. He had a bit more of a sense of humour!
I like Fanny, but then I love Anne of Persuasion as well. I am a little a-typical bout the heroines I prefer. (Don’t get me wrong, I do like Elizabeth Bennet, I just connect more with the shy & awkward heroines).
I’m glad to hear this book improved on you upon reading. I agree, the ending being so “short” somehow, made me feel that I wanted to know more about what exacty happened to some of the characters.
I didn’t dislike Anne, and I found it interesting that she was so different from other heroines, but Fanny had a bit more of a sparkle about her I thought! I think it was when she was in Portsmouth that she really started to grow on me.
One interesting feature of Mansfield Park is that Austen gives us a peek at the real world beyond the usual artificial society world in which her heroines live . She touches on the cruelty of slavery in the West Indies and the exploitation of labour for business ends (the sugar industry). Although this introduces a cruel streak into the personalities of Sir Thomas and his elder son, as well as the opportunity for Fanny to be filled with revulsion when she comes across the drawings depicting the harsh treatment of slaves, the references aren’t really central to the plot and one can’t help feeling that Jane, usually indifferent to the outside world has succumbed to the need to be topical even though slavery was abolished in 1808 – four years before she wrote the book.
Thanks for the interesting comment. It is true that slavery is mentioned briefly by Fanny but then ignored by the rest of the family! The fact that it is only mentioned a few times means that it can easily go over your head and doesn’t affect the rest of the story. I must admit, I hadn’t taken too much notice of it. It seems to be quite a controversial theme though and I’ve found some quite interesting points in some articles on the Internet!
I feel a bit bad commenting on an old conversation(have just found you blog now and trawling through old entries)… but. The slave thing probably gets a lot of commentary due to the 1999 film starring Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0178737/
You’re right that slavery is mentioned only a very few times in the book and as a reader it can go over your head. In the film much much more is made of the fact that Sir Thomas’ wealth is built on slave labour (personally I enjoyed the film but I know one purist who hated the addition of this theme to quite a gentle book). The scene mentioned in the comment above of Fanny discovering graphic images of brutality against the slaves on Sir Thomas’ plantations and the association of this trauma with his son’s illness all comes from the film.
If you’ve not seen it (and if you have I’m sorry for being patronising!) it’s well worth a watch. Much much better than the recent ITV version with Billie Piper (who I normally like but has obviously been directed to play a very different and more fiesty character than Fanny is in the books).
Also I agree. Team Henry all the way!
Don’t worry about commenting on old posts! It’s always good to have comments and new thoughts. I have been meaning to watch an adaptation of Mansfield Park, so thanks for the link, I will check it out! It will be interesting to see the take on slavery in the film as well because it wasn’t such an obvious theme in the book. I will be sure to put a post up after watching the film, so will let you know what I think!