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!
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