Author: Jane Austen
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pub. Date: 1814 (read Jan. 2021 on audible)
Narrator: Billie Piper & full cast
Mansfield Park – my final Jane Austen. I left Emma for last in the Audible collection, but as it will be a re-read, I’ve now finished them all!
I was curious what I would think about Mansfield Park. I’ve heard it’s not a favourite and I was determined to like it just as much as the others, but alas, I didn’t. I still think it’s a great book and overall I would give it 3.5 stars, but something about it just wasn’t quite as endearing.
The reason a lot of people dislike MP (I’ve heard) is because of how timid and meek Fanny Price is. I admit, she doesn’t have quite the same draw as characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma, who are very self-assured, but it’s clear she’s intentionally written that way. One thing I appreciate about Austen is that despite having similar themes in all her books, each of her heroines is quite unique and Fanny was really a victim of circumstance.
Of all Austen’s books, this one reminded me the most of Wuthering Heights, which is one of my favourite classics. While Fanny eventually finds her place at Mansfield Park, as a child, she is mistreated by every member of the family save Edmond. It wasn’t surprising that she grew to be so quiet and timid, yet I must praise her developing such morality. While everyone else at Mansfield lets their egos and vanity run away with them, Fanny is the sole voice of reason and propriety. Doesn’t sound like quite as much fun, but she becomes a very good reader of people.
I confess I struggled a little bit on this one to read the characters as well as Fanny. I had no idea where the plot was going as Austen is both reliable in her story telling, yet unpredictable. Knowing how it ends now I think I shall have to go back a read it again some day to see if I can’t pick up some more telltales of each of the character’s motivations. Fanny was much more perceptive than me as I found myself forgiving all of Henry’s previous transgressions and becoming quite a fan. Probably it was because I desperately didn’t want the novel to end with 2 cousins getting married, but while I could see through Mary Crawford, Henry had me quite duped.
However I think the main reason I didn’t love MP quite as much is because I didn’t find it as comic as Austen’s other books. To be fair, I had just read Northanger Abbey, which I think is the most comic of the lot, but I found the characters more vexing than funny. Still a sign of a good author, but I found it hard to find anything humorous about characters like Mrs. Norris. Likewise, while characters like Lydia are annoying, I still found her funny, whereas I found Maria extremely shallow and felt bad for thinking that she got her just reward (unfair I know when characters like Henry are just forgiven by society thanks to their wealth and sex). But mostly I was just sad about how Fanny was treated by her relatives.
The one thing I really liked about this book though was Fanny’s resolve not to marry Henry. She was pressured so much by her family and I honestly thought Henry seemed so sincere. I both wanted her to accept him, but also wanted her not to because it would only reinforce the terrible notion that a ‘no’ doesn’t really mean no, only that the individual needs to be better convinced. Women should be respected enough to know their own mind. Fortunately this wasn’t beyond Austen either and this quality in Fanny ended up raising her in everyone’s opinions when it was discovered what a scoundrel Henry really was.
Some of the my personal highlights were (in no particular order):
– Sir Thomas having his character redeemed and being good to Fanny
– The realization that while Fanny had a tough time at MP, she did ultimately gain from it and was raised in social class
– Henry deciding to woo Fanny for sport only to fall in love with her
– Fanny’s decidedness in not marrying Henry despite the pressure from every single person at Mansfield
– The love triangles and lack of discretion
– Fanny’s impression of her family when she returns home
– Grown adults acting out a play like children