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.