THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Taken from the poverty of her parents’ home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny’s uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry’s attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary’s dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords’ influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s most profound works (from Goodreads).
Thoughts: Fanny Price’s mother marries for love to a poor man. They have many children and it is hard for the family to make do; luckily, Fanny’s aunt married the wealthy Sir Thomas Bertram and they agree to raise Fanny at their home, Mansfield Park. Unfortunately, Fanny is treated mainly as a servant and helpmate, her needs and wants ignored, with her cousin Edmund as her only friend and ally. When Mansfield Park gains a new rector, Dr. Grant, his wife’s younger brother and sister come to stay for an extended visit, and the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford brings change, scandal, and love to Mansfield.
Mansfield Park is very much unlike the other two novels by Austen that I have read: Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Fanny is a decidedly unlikely heroine: she is timid, soft-spoken, easily persuaded and over powered, thinks lowly of herself, and is more likely to sit in the background instead of interacting with the other characters. Indeed, as she says to Edmund towards the end of the book: “As a bystander, perhaps I saw more than you.” This is what Fanny is through most of the book: a bystander. She is never in the center of action, even in those events that determine her comfort, contentedness, or the course of her daily activities. Fanny is so much not the focus of events that for several scenes and passages pages she is absent all together while we visit the conversations, thoughts,and schemes of Mary, Henry, Edmund, and others. But even when she is not present, or even thought of, she is the force that binds their characters together. It is because of her observation and her judgement that we see things for what they really are; it is only her who sees the true nature of the Crawfords and the danger her cousins are placing themselves in by being associated with them, among other things.
I admit that I felt sorry for Fanny and the treatment she endured at the hands of her thoughtless relatives, and her resulting lack of confidence and self-worth. Even Edmund is carelessly neglectful of her at times, which I judged him all the harsher for because he is the only one who pays any consideration for her. Fanny was trapped by her circumstances, being the dependent, poor relation, but nevertheless I couldn’t help but be frustrated by her at times. Whenever she was treated particularly badly, I wanted her to stand up, scream, and slap Mrs. Norris in the face. But of course, she never did; she just bowed her head and agreed to whatever horrible thing people had to say about her. Fanny, with her meekness and prudent, moral behavior, is so different from myself at times that, although sometimes I couldn’t understand her, I always felt for her.
I felt for Fanny; that, perhaps, I what I took away from this book the most- I felt for Fanny. I couldn’t help thinking that Edmund, with his occasional neglectful behavior towards Fanny and his self-delusional infatuation with Mary Crawford, didn’t deserve her. He certainly is not a dashing romantic hero on par with Mr. Darcy- but he is the closest thing that Fanny has at hand. If she hadn’t married Edmund she would have in all probability ended up spending the rest of her days waiting on her Aunt Bertram’s every beck and call, an unmarried spinster. So while I am glad that Fanny got what she wanted, in the end I was a bit frustrated because she had so few options available to her. Fanny’s story ended on the best possible note given the circumstances, but it was still an ending that I feel was somewhat forced on her because of the reality of her situation as a poor female dependent. The lack of options for poor young women of respectable families was really driven home to me through this book; lack of options which I have no doubt that Jane Austen felt keenly during her lifetime.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. However, I appreciated the departure that Austen took here from her two earlier works and the small inclusion of influences from the larger outside world, through Sir Thomas Bertram’s estates in the West Indies.
In conclusion: Aunt Norris is a horrible human being and deserves worse than she got. I’m glad I finished my goal of reading the first three of Austen’s novels this year- I can’t wait to complete the rest of her works next year, starting with Emma!