Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park. Jane Austen. 1814/1998. Norton. 520 pages.

About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.

What should you know about Mansfield Park? Well, it's not this movie or that movie*. Our heroine is a young woman named Fanny Price. She has been 'adopted' by the Bertram family. She has been "rescued" from poverty by her two aunts and uncle. (Aunt Norris is the most vocal of Fanny's aunts. She HAS opinions and then some!) She has been raised with her cousins--Maria and Julia and Tom and Edmund. The glimpses of joy and happiness in Fanny's life comes through her relationships with the two important men in her life. William, her brother, who comes to visit her at Mansfield Park. And Edmund, of course, the only one of the family to truly love her and accept her and embrace her as part of the family, a valued friend, a trusted companion. It's not a big surprise to learn that Fanny is secretly, deeply in love with Edmund. She lives for him. She treasures every word he's ever spoken to her. It would be impossible for me, as a reader, to love Edmund as much as Fanny does. But she has enough love for the both of us perhaps!

This one will contain a few spoilers. Nothing new if you've seen the movies. But I have to discuss the development of the romances!

So when Mr. Bertram is away on a very extended business trip, the Bertrams become acquainted with two young people new to the neighborhood. (These are half-relations to the Grants, whom the Bertrams already know.) The brother, Henry Crawford, accepts the flirtations of two sisters, Maria and Julia. Both women see him as oh-so-desirable, and who is he to argue? If they want to believe that he is swoon-worthy, he's not going to stop them! So he flirts a little with this one, a little with that one. Fanny is one of the few that see this 'naughty' behavior. What makes things worse, perhaps, is that Maria is to be married to Mr. Rushworth**. (Of course, Henry's sister, Mary, also notices that he is "interested" in both sisters.) So Mary has her own decisions to make. Which brother is the better brother? She soon settles on Edmund even if he is the younger, the poorer. For Mary can't fail to notice that Edmund is absolutely smitten. He's just head over heels in love with her. But Mary's idea of happily ever after is to mold Edmund into her image of the perfect man. Changing everything that makes him Edmund. Mary can't help showing her true colors to Fanny now and then--especially when she writes that horrible, horrible letter! And Edmund has moments where he's rational enough to see that Mary is the wrong woman for him. That she's entirely selfish and greedy and not above showing cruelty. But, as Fanny notices, these moments never last long.

While I have little (if any) sympathy for Mary Crawford, I can't help LOVING Henry Crawford. I don't know why. I see nothing wonderful, nothing redeeming in Frank Churchill, Willoughby, or Wickham. Yet, Henry Crawford, I want to believe that Fanny almost saved him from his dark side. For I can't help believing that Henry Crawford truly--for the very first time--felt love, real love, for Fanny. While Edmund was busy wooing Mary. While Edmund was busy being stupid over Mary, it was Henry that was saying the most wonderful things to Fanny.

So who should readers cheer for? The practically-nearly reformed flirt whose life is beginning to shape up. A man who speaks kind words, loving words. A man who seems devoted, committed. A man with much to offer. A man who has done much for her brother, William. A man who sees her, truly sees her. Not as a poor relation. Not as a nobody. But someone worthy of love, of respect. Someone who could make him happy forever and ever. Or the cousin who has always been kind to Fanny, but a man who has never once thought of loving Fanny in that way. Does he notice her as a woman? A woman fully grown as Tammy would say. A man who speaks only of another woman. Edmund is a fool for Mary. And Fanny is witness to all his silliness. She's been his companion, someone he talks to about his relationship problems.

Could Fanny be happy with Henry? Would she outgrow her feelings for Edmund? If Edmund had married Mary, would Fanny have settled down with Henry? Or would she have remained single? Would Henry be happy with Fanny? I think he would have been happy with Fanny. I think she might have--just by being herself--brought out all the good that was in him. I think that Henry had the potential to be the hero. Would Mary have been happy with Edmund? Would Edmund have been happy with Mary? No and no. I think those two would have been a mess. I do. I think that there would be no improving Mary, no redeeming Mary. I don't think Edmund would have been capable of changing her. And I'm not sure that Mary could have changed him either. I think that they'd have been miserably stuck with each other. I just don't see Mary as being a good wife or mother.

Can you tell how much I connected with these characters? I never expected to find such depth in this Austen novel! I have something to say about almost everyone! Aunt Norris--one you love to hate! So opinionated, so horrible, yet she livens up a conversation! Mr. Bertram, the father, the movie got him all wrong, I think. I saw him as a dear, for the most part. He surprised me the most, perhaps because I'd only seen the movies. Anyway, I am VERY glad I read this one!

On Shakespeare:

But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately. (229)

Edmund to Fanny:

"He will make you happy, Fanny, I know he will make you happy; but you will make him every thing." (238)

Mary to Fanny:

"If any man ever loved a woman for ever, I think Henry will do as much for you." (246)

Henry to Fanny:

"I know Mansfield, I know its way, I know its faults towards you. I know the danger of you being so far forgotten, as to have your comforts give way to the imaginary convenience of any single being in the family. (279)

Edmund to Fanny:

"I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife." (286)

About Aunt Norris:

She was regretted by no one at Mansfield. She had never been able to attach even those she loved best, and since Mrs. Rushworth's elopement, her temper had been in a state of such irritation, as to make her every where tormenting. Not even Fanny had tears for aunt Norris--not even when she was gone for ever. (316)

*If I had to choose between the 1999 movie and the 2007 one, I'd choose the 1999 one. Even though the names are the only things that carry over from book to film. I haven't seen the 1983 adaptation yet, so maybe there's hope that someone got it right. I can see myself watching the 1999 one again, but I'll 'never again' the newest one.

 **Readers notice along with Maria and everyone else--even Mr. Bertram--how big a fool Mr. Rushworth is. So it's not like Maria would have had much of a chance at a blissful marriage. She tired of him before they married.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

5 comments:

Jessica 3:58 PM  

This is my favorite Austin novel so its nice to read a good review as alot of ppl really dislike Fanny. I think she should have gone with Henry (apprently Austins sister Cassandra also agreed) I think Henry would have stuck around for about 5 years but those five years would have been filled with 10x more excitement than a lifetime with Edmond.

However if it was real life then Edmonds the right choice I guess.

Amanda 5:50 PM  

Mansfield Park was the second Austen novel I read right after P&P. I totally love and completely agree with your thoughts. Poor Henry! I too think that he truly loved her and would have changed for her. I still don't know how Fanny ended up with Edmond. Arg.

I didn't watch the new version (the girl they picked as Fanny....well I just knew it wasn't going to be a good fit.) But the 1999 version isn't AS bad as you may remember. I do think many many of the things were different and wrong. But I think Henry's love and devotion came out quite a bit. Edmond...well I could sort of see Fanny's love. My biggest problem is I think it's quite hard to portray Fanny without her just being plain goody two shoes and annoying.

Avid Reader 2:56 PM  

I never loved this one as I do most Austen novels, but I think I need to re-read it. I felt too much like I was being taught a moral lesson by Fanny ending up with Edmond. Great review!

RosieP 5:08 PM  

Mary's idea of happily ever after is to mold Edmund into her image of the perfect man. Changing everything that makes him Edmund.


And Edmund's idea of happily ever after is to mold Mary into his image of the perfect woman. Only, his task failed and turned to a woman who was easier to change . . . namely Fanny.

The Rush Blog 1:56 PM  

Would Mary have been happy with Edmund? Would Edmund have been happy with Mary? No and no. I think those two would have been a mess. I do. I think that there would be no improving Mary, no redeeming Mary. I don't think Edmund would have been capable of changing her. And I'm not sure that Mary could have changed him either. I think that they'd have been miserably stuck with each other. I just don't see Mary as being a good wife or mother.



You really hate Mary Crawford, don't you? I have never viewed Mary as this one-dimensional villainess without any redeeming bone in her body. She has shown more kindness toward Fanny than Fanny has ever shown toward her. And quite frankly, I think both Mary and Edmund could have learned to appreciate the differences in each other's character. Marrying someone is NOT about changing that person to suit your needs. It's about learning to love someone, despite their flaws. Mary has shown more capability of being able to tolerate Edmund's flaws than he has shown toward her flaws.

Neither of them are perfect. Yet, I get the feeling that you believe that the only flawed person in this relationship was Mary . . . and not Edmund.

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

Pageloads Counter

Search Book Blogs Search Engine

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP