Hope you are enjoying this colder weather (or warmer weather if you are lucky enough to still have it!) and have found some time to read amidst all the holiday preparations.
Today I am excited to share my review of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. This is my final Austen novel read as part of my Classics Club list. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel.
First, I need to say that I’ve been judging Mansfield Park unfairly for years. In my mind, the only time I read it–years ago–it was only okay. And I have the 1999 adaptation that takes some big liberties with the plot in my mind as well. That movie is not true to Jane Austen’s novel, taking the basic plot and spinning a far more risque story. Quick plug for a 1980s BBC miniseries that a fellow blogger (Comment if it was you!) pointed me to. Its on Amazon Prime and while I have only watched one episode thus far, I can vouch for it being true to the book.
Anyways, all those old opinions were so wrong here. I loved this book!
- I mostly listened to a lovely librovox recording (surprising as I find those are usually hit or miss) but this one was so nice. It was great to hear the words spoken and experience everything like it was the first time reading. I actually enjoy audiobooks of a lot of classics. If you’re looking to read more classic lit, I’d start with an audiobook.
- Also, fun fact: I finished listening to this novel on the plane coming home from London. So perfect!
According to Goodreads, “Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on estate business in Antigua (the family’s investment in slavery and sugar is considered in the Introduction in a new, post-colonial light), Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour, and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.”
Fanny is a complex and fascinating heroine. She’s different than several more widely known Austen heroines like Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. Fanny is shy, often quiet, does not socialize much and is also rather poor (like several Austen heroines). She doesn’t aspire to live or be any greater than she is. And she loves her family (brother William, Aunt Bertram and especially cousin Edmund) so fiercely that I admire her devotion. I love her journey to understanding her self worth and also accepting both where her home truly is and the way she is able to treat others with respect and caution so seamlessly.
I love Edmund Bertram basically from start to finish. From the first moment he is kind to Fanny when she is new in the house and all their confidences after that, I loved their sweet relationship. Edmund isn’t perfect (his infatuation with Mary Crawford doesn’t speak well of his understanding of her characters) but he also doesn’t have the classic Darcy pride or secrecy of Edward Ferris. I suppose he is most like Mr Knightley, which is lovely. He teaches Fanny so much about the world and also relies on her advice. Simply, he is a good, honest person and there should be more like him in the world.
Austen’s supporting characters are perhaps the most fascinating ones in this novel. The Crawford siblings are subtle and cunning in the ways they subvert manners and relationships in this story. They seem so good and respectable, but they’re also conniving and improper. I was fascinated! And the way Austen characterizes Aunt Norris (don’t you love to hate her?!) is so complicated. She is a widow and demands respect while also being rude to many of the people around her, especially Fanny. Additionally, Aunt Norris doesn’t understand what makes character truly admirable. Sir Thomas and Aunt Bertram vs the Price parents is interesting in the comparison. While Sir Thomas isn’t perfect and seeks to change for the better later in the novel after Mariah’s disastrous choices, he is always involved in his childrens’ lives. I felt sad for Fanny when she sees her parents for the first time in so many years and realizes they don’t really care about her. Overall, its the supporting characters that make this novel so intriguing and different than her others.
The setting is one of Austen’s smallest while the story is one of her darkest. Most of the novel happens in or near Mansfield Park with the exception of Fanny’s few months in Portsmith. Otherwise, we only hear about London and beyond thru letters. Austen shows her mastery of the small group story. Impressive. And while Austen satirizes many dark elements of the Gothic novel in Northanger Abbey, the elements in this novel are not satirical. The subtle ways she explores improper manners, the complexities of character, and the plots for wealth and power are fascinating. This is not a fast paced novel nor is it a psychological thriller. But the ways Austen incorporates these complex issues is genius.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. The writing is lovely. The descriptions are in depth and enlightening. And the characters are fascinating. I loved this reread!
Which is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?