A Basic Gal’s Guide to Jane Austen: Mansfield Park

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Mansfield Park. Where do I begin? I really liked this book, but I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason why, since really it has all the odds stacked against it – a weak-sauce romance for the leading lady, and frankly, a leading lady I don’t like or relate to. Maybe I am fond of this novel because it was a far departure from Emma – which I needed. Fanny Price is without a doubt the sweetest and kindest of the Austen leading ladies — but she also allows herself to be walked all over. Not everyone needs to be the opinionated Emma Woodhouse or the head-strong Elizabeth Bennett. But geez — stick up for yourself occasionally.

Now — my perception admittedly might be a bit swayed since I listened to an audiobook recording of the novel, and the narrator (who was fabulous) had a distinct very meek voice for Fanny. Many things that happened in her life lead Fanny to be a shy, timid lady. She was basically neglected as a child, except for the purpose she served to help raise her siblings. She then spent age 10 and on in a home where she essentially was the victim of verbal abuse by one of her aunts.

Hold on — I’m putting the cart before the horse. Let’s dive in.

The story really begins with three sisters – Mrs. Price, Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Bertram, who married men of very different means. Mrs. Bertram marries very well (financially speaking), Mrs. Norris seems to marry okay (although we never meet her dullard of a husband), and Mrs. Price marries a man who doesn’t have as much money as her sister’s suitors. The Prices go on to have many children, and when their finances seem overstretched, Mrs. Norris proposes the idea of taking in one of Mrs. Price’s children and sharing responsibility for the child with her sister Mrs. Bertram. But when push comes to shove, it is decided Fanny will live with the Bertrams at Mansfield Park because Mrs. Norris basically doesn’t want her. Even though the whole thing was Mrs. Norris’ idea. *Sigh* Sisters, am I right?

Fanny goes through quite the shock upon arriving at Mansfield for many reasons but most of all because SHE IS A CHILD WHO WAS SENT AWAY BY HER PARENTS TO BASICALLY LIVE WITH STRANGERS. Pardon my yelling – I just find it really upsetting. She doesn’t even hear from her family again (except for her brother William, with whom she is very close) until she goes to visit them when she is about 17. Spoiler alert: her parents aren’t very nice people.

Mrs. Norris belittles Fanny throughout the book. Pretty much every interaction she has with Fanny is negative, and she puts her down every chance she gets. It’s pretty disturbing, actually, and it takes the other adults a really long time to notice her toxic behavior.

The first person who shows kindness to her is her teenage cousin Edmund, who becomes her dearest friend in the house, and ultimately as they grow older – the object of her affection (gross). He is the second oldest of the Bertram siblings – he has one older brother named Tom who frankly, doesn’t add too much to the book other than the underlying fact that he is the one who will inherit their father’s wealth so Edmund chooses to become a Pastor to support himself (which is a source of contention between him and love interest Mary Crawford). There are also two younger Bertram children, sisters Maria and Julia.

Mary’s brother Henry is a well-known womanizer, and even though Maria Bertram is engaged to another man (who she just isn’t that into), he flirts with her pretty openly. After Maria gets married however, he sets his sights on Fanny. After she repeatedly refuses his attempts to woo her (Fanny has been keenly observant of the improprieties between Henry and Maria), Henry sure enough runs off to lick his wounds and flirt with the now-married Maria — and they run off together!

Back to Fanny and Edmund — I get the impression that after Mary Crawford made some unsavory remarks about the affair between Henry and Maria, he suddenly realized that she was a opinionated woman who didn’t share his values — and no longer had feelings for her. Then, he realizes he wants a woman like Fanny. I question whether he really loves Fanny, or saw her as the best option for him: familiar, kind and basically shares all his viewpoints.

Overall – Fanny is the Austen heroine who changes the least throughout her story. She is pretty much the same girl from beginning to end (even though she goes from child to woman in the course of the book), and I wonder if it’s because she is the embodiment of some of Austen’s favorite characteristics such as kindness and virtue. I was surprised that she really did not grow, it was more that everyone else grew around her.

Allison’s Ranking of Jane Austen Novels

1. Pride and Prejudice

2. Mansfield Park

3. Northanger Abbey

4. Emma

5. Persuasion

So to wrap up Mansfield Park – I liked that it was unique and the story was interesting. But if you are in it for a good romance — this isn’t the Austen novel for you.

Guys, I can’t believe it! Only one more to go! My Austen journey ends with Sense and Sensibility in my next post.

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Allison works at CLP – Main in the External and Government Relations Department as a Development Associate. She enjoys long walks, good books and bad reality television.