Jane Austen wrote six excellent novels. Unlike other authors, she does not only have one fantastic novel with five other middling novels. Each novel is a work of art with sharply drawn characters that are still recognizable in today’s society.
Therefore when I say that Mansfield Park is not one of my favorite Austen novels, it does not mean that it is a bad novel. It is still quite an excellent novel; I just personally do not like it as much as my favorites (Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion). Mansfield Park is often listed as the least favorite Austen novel. Why? (Please comment)
Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price. As a young girl in a poor family, Fanny is sent to live with her mother’s sister, Lady Bertram, the wife of Sir Thomas Bertram. They live at Mansfield Park with their four children, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Luckily for them, Lady Bertram’s other sister, Mrs. Norris; the wife of the rector also lives nearby. Mrs. Norris makes it her life’s mission to keep Fanny usefully employed and to make sure she understands what a privilege it is that to live with her uncle and aunt. Edmund is the one person in the family who provides Fanny with kind attention as a child. Her affection for him grows into love as she matures.
Unfortunately for Fanny, the Mansfield Park living is sold to a Dr. Grant, and his brother and sister-in-law come to visit. Henry and Mary Crawford are good looking Londoners with wit and charm to spare. Henry casts a spell over Maria and Julia, while Edmund is enraptured with Mary. Will true love prevail?
Thoughts (SPOILER ALERT)
This novel had fantastic characters. I think one of the reasons this novel has popularity problems is because of the main character, Fanny. Fanny is a shy girl with strong convictions. As she is shy, she is often not the main action of the novel. While Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse are always at the center as sparkling wits, Fanny is the shy girl on the sidelines. She is a unique heroine, but it is hard to relate to her at times.
Fanny seems to suffer from poor self-esteem (how can Henry love her she thinks at one point) probably caused by her Aunt Norris. Aunt Norris – what a villain! She spends the novel giving Fanny back handed compliments. She is not only slyly mean, but is very cheap. This gives the novel many humorous moments.
Edmund is also a troubled hero. Really the novel is the love story of Edmund and Mary Crawford. Mary is more interesting to me, a lively wit who falls in love with Edmund. She is unable to separate financial matters with love for marriage and loses Edmund because of her stance on moral issues.
What doesn’t help matters is that the novel is then tied up too quickly. While Emma had a nice drawn out ending that allowed everything to take place, this ending feels rushed. All of the sudden Edmund discovers he is love with Fanny and they marry. It feels more like Fanny is the runner-up, second best prize. It would have been nice to explore the love between them. Fanny had the love the entire novel, but I worry about Edmund. Only chapters from the end he was telling Fanny that Mary was the only woman he could imagine himself being happy with. Poor Fanny!
Henry Crawford is also a great character. He is enigmatic and finds himself in love with Fanny. My favorite part of the novel is when he visits Fanny and her family in Portsmouth. He discovers that her family is poor and ill-mannered, but this makes no difference to him. He loves Fanny anyway and treats her family nicely. This is Henry Crawford at his best. I wanted Fanny to accept him at this point (and I may have fallen a little in love with him myself)! Unlike Mary, Henry Crawford is not going to marry for wealth and position.
Then Henry Crawford turns to his worst, running off with Maria Rushworth after he leaves Fanny. Mr. Crawford seems to love the pursuit of the unattainable woman. When Fanny’s affections were so hard to attain, I think Henry loved the challenge. As a married woman, Mrs. Rushworth presents another such challenge. Not much has changed in two hundred years, I know men like that now!
Despite all appearances, at this point in the novel, Fanny is a strong character. She is able to withstand Henry Crawford’s charm (and indeed he must have been charming) and a life of luxury as his bride in order to wait for true love and someone that matched her moral values.
Overall, I think this book had a couple themes that spoke to me. The first would be the importance of values in marriage. The Crawfords do not share the values of Edmund and Fanny. Both Edmund and Fanny are strong enough to realize this and to not settle for something less. The other overall theme is similar to other Austen novels; one should marry for love and not for wealth. Maria married for material purposes and it ended badly. Mary wants wealth, but loses true love in the process. Fanny refuses to marry Henry without love and he is proved a morally bad character in his dealings with Maria. Only Fanny and Edmund marry for love and values and we assume live happily ever after. This does not always work out as in the case of Fanny’s parents.
This audio version of this novel was read by Wanda McCaddon. She did a fine job as a narrator and it was once again a great experience getting to hear Mansfield Park read aloud as it would have been in the Austen family. That being said, I don’t think McCaddon did as excellent a job as Prunella Scales did for Emma.
Mansfield Park is item number 7 in my Everything Austen Challenge as well as an item in my Classics Challenge (number 1 since I started the challenge, but number 4 since challenge began). I am still on my Mansfield Park kick and soon write a review on The Matters at Mansfield as well as watch the 1999 Mansfield Park movie.
Mansfield Park is my sister Kristi’s favorite Jane Austen novel. She just started a blog. Help me to convince her to write a review of Mansfield Park. She has an excellent review of Charlotte by Jane Austen and Julia Barrett on her site.