14 September 2010

Everything Austen II - Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

Summary: Fanny Price, niece of Sir Thomas and Lady Burtram is brought to Mansfield Park at 10 years old from the squalor of her home overflowing with noise, many other children and some degree of poverty. The Bertrams, along with Mrs. Norris, Fanny's other aunt, plan to raise her and educate her. She is younger than her cousins, Maria and Julia and even more so than Tom, eldest brother, and Edmund. What is supposed to be good for her has made her very unhappy because she's constantly reminded that she isn't really one of them. The only cousin who sees her unhappiness is Edmund and goes out of his way to make her happy at the age of 10, but also throughout her time at Mansfield Park. Change bring a new family to the neighborhood, Sir Thomas must travel for business, and all the while the Fanny and her cousins are growing up. I shall not recap the entire story because it needs to be read in its original, but it's worth the effort. You will find characters learning some important lessons about themselves and their attitudes as the novel concludes.

Comments: (some spoilers) There is such a controversy about this book or perhaps more about its heroine, Fanny Price. Most people think she's just too mousy, quiet, boring ... the adjectives go on and on. I'll admit, Elizabeth Bennet; she isn't. It took me a long time to come around to this story, but I finally think I have gotten somewhere close to understanding it. There is a certain deception that goes along with the story. The deception that surely Fanny Price isn't the heroine is the first one. It must be the bright, bubbly Mary Crawford (a new addition to the neighborhood), but we see too much of her duplicity early in the story for that to be so. Consequently we're just left with Fanny Price as our heroine. Edmund is certainly deceived in Mary Crawford, so for that matter, is Maria Bertram deceived in Henry Crawford, Mary's flirtatious brother. I could go on, but Mansfield Park points out that what is important is what you do and how you think, not just necessarily what you say. The only person who is not deceived is Fanny. She see things, the things that matter and does not let flattery or threats, for that matter, shake her sense of what is right and proper. Now maybe that's boring to us now because what is proper doesn't seem to matter as much to our culture. Maybe this is such a misunderstood text because it does not translate well into the 21st century. 
Another theme to appear in Mansfield Park is the contrast of  The Country with that of  The City. Mary Crawford sees her exile to the country as a dead bore (at least until she spends some time w/Edmund) while Edmund thinks the small character flaws he does see in Mary are from all the time in the city with her society friends. After several noisy bustling weeks at "home," Fanny longs for the green of the country and her real home - Mansfield Park. Maria and Julia long to get to the city to escape their oppressive father, but nothing happens for them there but trouble in Julia's case and ruin in Maria's with Henry Crawford.
Fanny Price is by no means the most exciting or even endearing heroine ever penned by Miss Austen, but she certain teaches a lesson to do what is right, be patient, kind, and grateful and serves as a contrast to all around her.  

1 comment:

  1. As a teenager, I was very much like Fanny Price, so when I read fiction, I wanted a heroine who would be assertive, like Elizabeth Bennet. Fanny was too shy for my taste. She was not someone I wanted to be. Thanks for your thoughts.


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