For some reason I keep coming back to read Jane Austen in spite of liking only two of the five* that I have read previous to Mansfield Park
. I love her prose and dialogues but her tales of “conjugal felicity” are usually less than riveting for me. Still, I keep coming back for more of her romantic shenanigans so I guess – for me – her prose is more important than her plot at least where Austen is concerned.
So I started Mansfield Park
with some trepidation, once again wondering why I bother. The Telegraph’s declaration that this is “Jane Austen’s least-loved novel”
did not bode well for me, but lo and behold!, as early as Chapter One I found myself digging the book, in other words I was happy to give it my complete approbation. “Least-loved novel”? Tcha! Upon my word! etc. I think with this book Austen was firing from all cylinders, telling an interesting and psychologically complex yarn through her reliably gorgeous prose.
Like all Jane Austen novels Mansfield Park
focuses on a single female protagonist, Miss Fanny Price on this occasion. What confounded my expectation immediately is that her childhood in the first chapter is one of privation. When she moves from her crappy family home to live with her rich aunt she is a fish out of water and regarded by the residents of her aunt’s house (the eponymous Mansfield Park) as something of a plebeian; what with her inability to play any musical instrument and ignorance of geography etc. The only kindness she receives is from super nice boy Edmund Bertram who can immediately be identified as the book’s romantic interest. Still the circuitous route to the eventual romantic relationship is even more circuitous than usual. Fanny Price has a much harder time of it than other Austen heroines, though [a: Thomas Hardy|15905|Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1429946281p2/15905.jpg]’s heroines would have scoffed at her difficulties.Mansfield Park
is populated with quite a few colorful characters, there is the womanizing cad Henry Crawford who is a stock Austen antagoist, his sister Mary who is an evil sultry seductress, a nasty
witchy aunt**, and Sir Thomas Bertram, a stick in the mud rich uncle. Interestingly the adjective “colorful” cannot be applied to the two main characters Fanny and Edmund. In fact this book’s unpopularity among die hard Janeites mostly stems from Fanny’s doormat-ish character, always shy and retiring, humble and repressed, the polar opposite of [b: Pride and Prejudice|1885|Pride and Prejudice|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320399351s/1885.jpg|3060926]’s Elizabeth Bennet. Yet, in her defence Fanny is sharp as a pin, she is more akin to [a: Agatha Christies|123715|Agatha Christie|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1321738793p2/123715.jpg]’s Miss Marple than Liz Bennet. She can quickly and accurately sum up people’s true characters regardless of their surface attraction or amiability. This acute power of observation serves her well when practically all the characters in the book gang up on her to persuade or pressurize her into marrying the wealthy and slick Henry Crawford. Doormat or no she stands her ground and is completely vindicated by the end of the book.“I think it ought not to be set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may happen to like himself.”
I think this is a key passage that nicely encapsulates her attitude.
Much as I like the book I do find the ending quite predictable, Austen seems to always resort to an “elopement crisis” to create a climactic drama, and while there are some signs that Henry may reform through the love of a good woman he reverts back to his traditional Austen villain role. I would really like to see an unconventional ending to what is already an unconventional Austen adventure.
Still I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can – for once – recommend it unconditionally.
* [b: Pride and Prejudice|1885|Pride and Prejudice|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320399351s/1885.jpg|3060926] (liked), [b: Sense and Sensibility|14935|Sense and Sensibility|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1397245675s/14935.jpg|2809709] (liked), [b: Emma|6969|Emma|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1373627931s/6969.jpg|3360164] ("as if!"), [b: Persuasion|2156|Persuasion|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1385172413s/2156.jpg|2534720] (boring), [b: Northanger Abbey|50398|Northanger Abbey|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388201718s/50398.jpg|4039699] (boring).
** Mrs. Norris is a nasty piece of work, but within Jane Austen's limited scope of nastiness. The worst thing I can imagine doing to an Austen villain is to waggle my finger at them with extreme prejudice.Notes
I read/listened to the free audiobook version
beautifully read by Karen Savage, in her soothing and pretty voice. Thank you Ms. Savage.Whovian corner
(dedicated to my dear friend Cecily)
Billie Piper as Fanny Price: