Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Mansfield Park is Jane Austen's third published novel (following Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice) and was published in 1814. Even when I couldn't get into Jane Austen I always liked this novel. It's not a typical Austen novel: Sense and Sensibility has the strong relationship of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood; everybody knows the great and wonderful Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice; whatever you may think of Emma Wodehouse of Emma (1815) she is unforgettable and not one to be trifled with; nor, for that matter is Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey (1817); and Anne Eliot of Persuasion (1817), though quiet, is steadfast and as admirable as any of them. Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, is remarkable precisely for being on the whole unremarkable. A very strange heroine indeed, more reminiscent of Samuel Richardson in fact, than Austen (I'll note Richardson was one of her favourite authors so there's no surprise there). But, speaking of Richardson, though I do love his works I have to admit he has his fair share of slightly irritating heroines - Clarissa Harlowe of Clarissa (1748) is so virtuous it's frankly beyond comprehension, and Pamela Andrews (Pamela, 1740), again virtuous but so much so it's almost beyond admiration. Nevertheless Pamela is still a good novel, and Clarissa is one of my all-time favourites. A strong and defiant heroine is not necessarily the main ingredients to an outstanding novel.

Which, to bring this back to Mansfield Park, is fortunate. In this novel Austen tells the story of Fanny Price who, at a young age, is sent to live with her uncle and aunt Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park, Northamptonshire. She is the 'poor relation', and she is made to feel it. Her cousins are not good companions - Maria and Julia are superficial and Tom is a drunken hedonist. The fourth cousin, however, Edmund (who aspires to be a clergyman) does prove to be somewhat of an ally.

When Sir Thomas leaves Mansfield Park for the West Indies (where he owns plantations), Mansfield Park sees the arrival of siblings Henry and Mary Crawford; Henry is a flirt, and Mary, though she abhors the idea of marrying a clergyman, begins to fall for Edmund, who Fanny herself has come to love. From here, Mansfield Park becomes very complicated, and the play they wish to act about half-way through the book becomes an appropriate metaphor: the whole novel sees characters acting and manipulating, and it is only really Fanny, always the outsider, who is not drawn in by all of these games. Though lacking in confidence, shy and timid, one cannot call Fanny Price weak.

It is a great novel, and one of my favourites by Jane Austen, and it's tapestry contains many an interesting threads: that Sir Thomas owns plantations, and so slaves, and Mansfield Park itself was built on its profits. Money, for this set, is a corrupting force. The more wealthy characters of this novel are prone to be superficial, relying on charm more than substance (when they choose to be pleasing, that is, which is not always), and quite frequently showing themselves to be completely immoral. The poor relation, Fanny, though timid and often "alarmed" is real and true, and for that I like her very much. She's an interesting heroine, more, as I say, of the Richardson tradition than the more 19th Century heroines like Austen's, and also the Brontës, Trollope, and the like, but she is no less worthy.

To finish this brief post, illustrations from C. E. Brock, my new favourite illustrator of Austen novels. These are from the 1908 edition published by J. M. Dent & co.


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Further Reading
Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814) | About Education

♔ Jane Austen's Major Works ♔
 Sense and Sensibility (1811) | Pride and Prejudice (1813) | Mansfield Park (1814)
Emma (1815) | Northanger Abbey (1817) | Persuasion (1817)

Comments

  1. This is my favourite Austen, and the one that converted me.

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    1. Yes, it is a good one :) I think it was Pride and Prejudice that converted me, however. But I have always liked Mansfield Park.

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  2. Just 1 thing: I count Mansfield Park as her 4th, not her 3rd, novel. Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are the 18th century novels (if you think of when they were written, not when they were published), and the last 3 are the 19th century novels. There's also a large gap in artistry and some change in views/ tone (sadder and, in a way, kinder) between the 1st 3 and the last 3.

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    1. Ah, ok - so it's her third PUBLISHED novel, but not third written novel. I shall make that correction :) Thank you!

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  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes Fanny Price; I hate how so many people are down on her. She may not be flashy and full of fun like Elizabeth Bennett, but she has a good heart, and she's true, and she does the right thing despite everyone else around her...and I like her. It's nice to know I'm not the only fan of Mansfield Park. :)

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    1. Yes, when I was reading around I was struck by how many people liked Fanny Price given that she's supposed to be the least popular! From my reading of blogs etc, I half think it is Emma Wodehouse who is the least popular! :)

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    2. Oh oh look at this:
      http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2015/08/nina-auerbach-doesnt-understand.html
      That's probably the worst thing I've ever heard anyone say about Fanny Price.

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    3. "Fanny's refusal to act is a criticism not just of art, but of life as well" - Um.... That is not how I read it! Oh dear.... :)

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  4. I'm reading through this one right now and am mulling over what Austen is trying to show. It's very interesting. Fanny is a little like Anne Eliot of Persuasion except I think, much more endearing. This is not my favourite work but I'm quite enjoying it. I'm finding that I really despise the Crawfords, much more than when I read it the first and second time. I'll have to see if that feeling changes .......

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    1. I had a different experience too when I read this for the second time :) And when I "categorise" Austen novels in my head I put this with Persuasion as well - Fanny is quite introverted, I suppose like Anne Eliot.

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  5. The more wealthy characters of this novel are prone to be superficial - as do the poorer characters! I draw your attention to Fanny's stay with her parents. Fanny's greatest exercise of whatever limited power she has is the extrication of her sister from Portsmouth.

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  6. I LOVE Mansfield Park! Fanny is who I would aspire to be in my wildest dream.s She's amazing. :)

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    1. She's certainly not as bad as some folks portray, I agree there! :)

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  7. The first time I read the book I did not like it at all. Fanny was such a wet rag I couldn't stand her. The second time I read the book I liked it. Perhaps when I come to read it a third time I will love it.

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    1. Perhaps! I think it grows on you :)

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