Austenfest Week Three: Mansfield Park

A Penguin Classics cover of Mansfield Park

Our Austen heroine in this novel is of quite a different character than those we have known as of yet. With an exceedingly virtuous nature, Fanny Price lives with her wealthy aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, along with her older cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. From a much poorer family with many children, this presents a great opportunity for her education and manners and though an extremely shy child, she grows into a woman who excels at both. Along with neighboring aunt, Mrs. Norris, a skinflint who dislikes Fanny, the family often overlooks her, treating her as inferior to her cousins. The only one to ever show her much kindness was Edmund, and Fanny’s long admiration of his thoughtfulness grows into a love she hides for many years.

After this brief history, we forward to when Fanny is around eighteen-years-old. Sir Thomas has left to visit his business interests in the Caribbean, and the Bertrams have slowly become much less guarded in their behavior in his absence. Though Edmund remains the kind person he has always been, Tom is prone to gambling, Maria and Julia are shameless flirts (even though the former is engaged), and Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram either ignore or encourage these behaviors. The situation continues with the arrival of Henry Crawford and his sister Mary in the village, who quickly entwine themselves with the Bertrams, leading to many romantic entanglements. Fanny is often overlooked in their escapades, and is dismayed to see not only some appalling behavior from Mr. Crawford, Maria and Julia, but the growing attachment of her beloved Edmund to Miss Crawford, a lady who, though kind to Fanny and very pretty, has many faults Edmund seems to overlook. But, the plot thickens and Austen throws in many twists and turns that end up with ruination for some and happiness for others. With a conclusion containing elopement, adultery, marriage, divorce and banishment, Austen surprises her readers again with an ending you won’t soon forget!

Watercolour Illustration by C.E. Brock

As an Austen addict it is hard not to enjoy the author’s narrative, plot and characters. But despite having these classic Austen attributes, Mansfield Park is unlikely to become one of your favorites. Fanny Price is too keen on good manners, and not many find her approval. Without Lizzie’s spunk, Marianne’s passion, Emma’s lightheartedness or even Catherine’s imagination, Fanny is left to her dull self; a character who might have been more admired in the 1800’s, perhaps. Though it may be hard to follow up Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park has only a fraction of it’s romance and intrigue. It does however contain some wonderful characters in the form of Mrs. Norris and the Crawfords, but unfortunately they are not the focus of the story. It is a good read, but I would only recommend it for those who, like me, need all the Austen they can get.

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