Commentary: Mansfield Park…Again

Posted 24 July, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 14 Comments

Mansfield Park
By: Jane Austen
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy

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.

I took to re-reading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park some time ago; it’s definitely one of her books that I re-read the least. It’s not because I don’t like it–I love it–but I guess it being the lengthiest of her novels factor in there somewhere. Anyway, one of the reasons why I love this novel is that, while it’s not as flashy as Pride and Prejudice (review) or romantic and melancholic as Persuasion (review) but it is probably the most thought-provoking of her books to me. I don’t often recommend Mansfield Park to new Jane Austen readers (see my So You Want to Read… feature for next month), but I do recommend it overall because it’s just so rich a novel. And re-reading it this time around brought out the questions…as well as the feels 😛

Random note before I proceed: I don’t own the Penguin English Library edition of the book, but isn’t the book cover for it so pretty? <333
SPOILERS if you haven’t read the book!

Gosh, where to beginning in what is going to be a rather long post? As always I’m uber-protective of Fanny: she doesn’t like the attention or the praise, she’s perfectly contented being in the background in the company of her own thoughts more than actively participating in her cousins’ lively little discussion circle. The latter in fact I can absolutely relate with Fanny. Heck, I identify with Fanny overall: introverted, curious about the world in her own way, just wanting to pass by and do her own thing without stirring up attention.

She was not often invited to join in the conversation of the others nor did she desire it. Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions… – ch. 8

Sure, she’s not witty like Elizabeth Bennett or as confident as Emma Woodhouse, but there’s an inner strength to Fanny that everyone overlooks. Even as Sir Thomas gets upset at Fanny for rejecting Henry Crawford’s proposal, Fanny remains steadfast in her opinions and her feelings. She doesn’t change much as a character over the course of the novel, but she does come out stronger in that she goes through a lot over the course of 400 pages: constant separations from her brother William, enduring Edmund’s constant praises of Mary Crawford, everything Mrs. Norris (ugh), her other cousins putting her down, Henry Crawford’s initial attentions, being sent away from Mansfield Park, etc. Girl went through a lot, I was relieved that everything turned out well for her in the end.

I also felt for Fanny because this time around I was thinking and focusing on how out of place she was. Yes, Mrs. Norris was constantly reminding her where she was from and of her low birth, etc, etc. but then when Fanny goes back to Portsmouth to be with her biological family, she finds herself out of place there too, the manners and headspace of her family crude and wanting and thinking about Mansfield Park all along. She has one foot into the door in one place but then she still has a bit of herself back at Portsmouth, and yet she’s sort of shunned from both. It’s weird, and pretty lonely, and I don’t blame her for any extended awkwardness she may feel.

Like before, except more so with this re-read, I found myself pondering quite a bit as to why Fanny ended up with Edmund. If you stick solely with the book, there’s not really any spark there that alludes to them possibly becoming more; yes, he’s the only one who cares for Fanny from his whole family, and from her perspective we know that he’s one of the two most important people in her life that she absolutely loves and cares for, but from his side he’s always treated her more as a sibling (and a rather patronising one at times). The 1999 adaptation (yes, I’m actually making a reference to it; those who know me/talk to me regularly know I’m not a fan of that movie) had maybe one scene prior to their penultimum scene, while the 2007 adaptation did a reasonable job of portraying their relationship in a way that led to them ending up together, a la the Shakespeare adaptation way (as an aside, I do like the take that it was a “lightning” moment on Edmund’s part–I think it’s the only way to explain the shift in his affections cf. the rest of the novel!) I wondered if the reason Jane Austen put them together at the end was for the sake of giving Fanny a complete happily ever after, a Cinderella sort of ending. A bit far-fetched but I think the text does give a clue as towards the end it spoke of Fanny bridging the gap within a fractured house and bringing the family back together, which makes me think that her marriage to Edmund makes her wholly a daughter of the Bertrams in that respect as opposed to a ward and close cousin:

The families would never be connected if you did not connect them! – ch. 44

But still, it’s not satisfying enough, even if only to bring Fanny’s story to a full circle and close. Girl deserves a bit of <333 after everything Edmund put her through, her sitting by the wayside while he pursued Mary Crawford 😛 Maybe Amanda Grange's diary series fills the gap on that 😉 Once again, I wondered a great deal about Henry Crawford and what would it be like if the novel really ended with him turning his ways, becoming a reformed man, and finding happiness with Fanny and their life together. Jane Austen does give us a hint as to what would have happened had he not relapsed to old habits, letting his pride and vanity get the best of him:

Could (Henry Crawford) have been satisfied with the conquest of one amiable woman’s affections, could he have found sufficient exultation in overcoming the reluctance, in working himself into the esteem and tenderness of Fanny Price, there would have been every probability of success and felicity for him […] Would he have deserved more, there could be no doubt that more would have been obtained… – ch. 48

It’s sad because perhaps unlike her other “scroundrel” characters, you really see him change as a character the more he interacted with Fanny. By the time he proposes, I feel like he was quite sincere about settling down with her; his decision even shocked his rather unflappable sister. The whole event left me pondering that, had he succeeded, he would’ve been the only “bad boy” character who would’ve redeemed himself so-to-speak (at this point in the notes I made during break, I listed out all of the characters from her other novels and where they ended up in the end 😛 ). I don’t blame Fanny at all for not entertaining the possibility of forming an attachment with Mr. Crawford or for shutting him down the way she did–boy was being careless and flirting with her cousins without so much as an afterthought that of course you’d be suspicious if he turned his attentions on you–but one can’t help but feel just a wee bit for Henry that she should’ve at least…I don’t know, humoured him a bit? Get to know him a bit, see if there’s a bit of depth underneath his frivolous ways? I don’t know, I think Alessandro Nivola’s performance as Henry Crawford is influencing my feelings here! But indeed even Fanny was beginning to thinks about it at the end too, her opinion of him was changing, before he went back to his old ways:

She had begun to think he really loved her, and to fancy his affection for her something more than common – ch. 46

Fail, fail, fail, Henry! *facepalmsmack* While Maria gets a lot of the flack for their indiscretion, there is some measure of punishment on Henry’s behalf for straying the way he did, namely that he lost Fanny, which is mentioned in the last chapter, and that he did indeed understood and regretted. So what do you think, everyone? Was Henry Crawford truly sincere in his affections towards Fanny? If he had not went after Maria during his trip, would Fanny eventually warmed up to him? Would he have been happy with Fanny in the long run?

The last question left me wondering too and contrasting Fanny’s situation with Henry with that of Edmund and Mary Crawford. The flip was quite interesting: Edmund falls for the city girl, while Henry eventually falls for the girl with the simple likings. But with Edmund, it was becoming rather clear that while he was very much attracted to Mary, he wasn’t very comfortable with her lifestyle or the society she kept, the constant parties and intermingling with the social circles. I get the feeling though that Henry fared a bit better when he visited Fanny at Portsmouth; of course the ulterior method was to see Fanny, and he seemed genuinely concerned to get her away from Portmouth’s environment, but he wasn’t in any rush to transplant her in London or anything. So maybe there was hope for Henry?

Guh, someone needs to write one of those diary books but from his perspective >_< I find him to be probably the most fascinating character to contemplate about in this book.
Speaking of which, I was thinking a bit about Mary Crawford as well. I can see why Fanny had this conflicted relationship with her; Mary was pretty well-meaning towards her but her personality seemed so overwhelming and such a direct contrast to Fanny’s: high-spirited, vivacious, always where the society is. There’s of course the factor about Edmund’s affections in there (it still amazes me how Mary ended up interested in Edmund despite voicing her opinion about his life choices and preferences; guess opposites do attract) but in the end yeah, I guess their friendship was a strange case of push-and-pull because of Edmund/Henry and because of their personalities. It’s interesting and rather complex and overall just fascinating to ponder about.

The topic of families and upbringing continues to fascinate me as the theme permeates in almost every character that populates this novel. The obvious example is amongst Sir Thomas’ children: all of them disappointed their parents one way or the other, disobeying their parents and ruining themselves one way or the other. Edmund of course is the exception, but he too was tempted to think or act otherwise at one point (though he would’ve have been as bad as his other siblings, I think). As the final chapter notes, it is in Fanny that Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram find the daughter they wanted, and she was treated fairly poorly over the years in Mansfield Park, most notably from Mrs. Norris with the way she put her down constantly, but also from being misunderstood and overlooked by almost everyone else. The nature versus nurture element plays out here especially at the end when Sir Thomas reflects on his role in the mischief and ruination of his daughters. But the observations also extend to the Crawfords, with Austen’s narration remarking on how “early independence and poor role models” led the Crawford siblings astray. It’s a fascinating thought, not to mention the initial fracture amongst the Ward sisters (Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price) and how that sort of played out; their respective marriages obviously led to the fracture amongst the sisters, but it’s still interesting to ponder what sort of family unit they were like before the events of the novel.

So I suppose that’s my “mini” reflection/commentary about my re-read of Mansfield Park 😀 I might’ve missed a few points that I wanted to add here but alas. If you’ve read the book, what do you think? What interested you the most about it? Comments about anything I touched upon here? Let me know, I’d love to read your thoughts!

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14 Responses to “Commentary: Mansfield Park…Again”

  1. What a great commentary and review! Now I definitely want to read Mansfield Park sometime. Especially for Henry’s character :-). I enjoyed your musings on how upbringing and family play a major role in shaping character. It’s so true!

    • Thanks Courtney! I look forward to reading your thoughts on the book when you get to it, it’s quite a thought-provoking book and the themes of upbringing and family really play a prominent role here. I can spend hours contrasting between the young characters, definitely lol 😀

  2. I’m a Janeite, so I’ve read Mansfield Park numerous times. I generally like Fanny, but Edmund really gets on my nerves. I don’t like the way he treats Fanny the whole time and in the end, what’s it with the sudden change? Anyway, Edmund’s is the only one of the diaries that I haven’t read from Amanda Grange’s series and it might give a plausible explanation for this one. Great review!

    • I wonder if putting Edmund together with Fanny was a last-minute decision on Austen’s part given how brief an explanation was given/not even a proper scene between them cf. other Austen couples? I didn’t mention it in my post but I did write a note somewhere pondering how people consider Fanny pretty uptight but then they don’t realise/mention that if she’s uptight/prudish/whatever, it’s because Edmund’s that way and a lot of what she learned came from him =S I dunno, I still can’t seem to reconcile myself with that explanation of him being such an educator in Fanny’s life that it’s natural that they end up together (I forgot when exactly that was said). Maybe in another re-read?

      I definitely need to read her diary on him, agreed, maybe it will provide an explanation from his perspective. Amanda Grange’s diaries have been pretty on-point so far! 😀

  3. I love Mansfield Park! I feel it is so under appreciated! There is so much food for thought in it and Fanny is the wisest heroine I think.

    • It is! ;_; MP deserves more love, there’s just so much to think about. While I can see where people are coming from that Fanny is the only Austen heroine who doesn’t change a whole lot over the course of the novel, she does weather a lot of obstacles that come her way that in itself is admirable 🙂

  4. Great post Lianne, a joy to read your thoughts about Mansfield Park.
    At the moment I’m following the webseries From Mansfield with Love which is a modernized adaptation of the story. It really has given me a new appreciation and insight into the story. Especially into the persons of Mary and Henry. It has actually made me start to like and feel for Henry more than the book or the ‘ordinary’ adaptations could. When the series finishes, I definitely want to reread the book to see if I pick up on other things.

    • Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed reading it! 😀 I’m so behind in watching all these webseries based on the classic books, but that’s cool that it’s given you a new appreciation/insight into the story; same thing happened to me with Emma Approved/Emma xD Looking forward to reading your thoughts on MP when you get to re-reading it! 🙂

      We need a new adaptation of MP. Preferably a miniseries a la the recent Emma 😀

  5. Really great thoughts on Mansfield Park. I wish my book group would pick this for our next classic read (we’re doing Emma instead) – there’s just so much to ponder. I agree that Henry Crawford is an interesting character. I actually did feel that his feelings for Fanny were genuine, much to his surprise. He set out to toy with her, and was punished, in a way, by actually falling for the one girl who sees right through him. I do think, as well, that there might have been hope for Fanny to return his feelings eventually, if he’d followed through on his good intentions rather than flattering his own vanity. Aunt Norris – ugh. Wretched woman. I did feel a little sorry for Maria. Marrying Rushworth made great sense for her in terms of status and fortune, and had she never met Crawford, she might have been satisfied with her life running the big house. She made bad choices at a time when women weren’t able to recover from bad choices.

    I do love Fanny and her calm, undemanding presence. I even slowly came to like the odd relationship between Aunt Bertram and Fanny, and how Fanny ended up being more to her aunt that either of her daughters.

    Lovely book!

    • Thanks! MP would definitely make a great read for a book club. There’s just so much to talk about thematically and analyse re: the characters. I love the way you put it about Henry being punished for wanting to toy with Fanny by falling in love with her (and then losing her). That’s a good point about Maria, if she never met Crawford–or met with him again, for that matter–she would’ve been satisfied with the things she had (more or less).

      Aunt Norris & S&S’s Lucy Steele = top spot for my least favourite characters in Jane Austen -_-;

      Aunt Bertram sometimes irked me because of how absent/disengaged she was from almost everything that was going on (until the end), but then I love the strange development of her relationship with Fanny.

      Guh, I just re-read this book and now I feel like re-reading it again! Hahaha 😀

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