Mansfield Park was my first read of 2012 (started in 2011, actually) and I think it was a good way to get into a new year. I have never, ever, liked Jane Austen. In 2008 I bought Pride and Prejudice after hearing it praised for being a great love story. However, after struggling with the book for months, I could not see a love story, just two people who, in my humble opinion, did not know each other and decided to get together out of the blue. Then, I had to revisit it for a 19th century literature class and my opinion did not change… at all. But, by the end of 2011 I felt school had swallowed by time and my passion for reading: too many lessons on translating and linguistics and only a literature course I liked. I felt I needed a classic and that is where Mansfield Park popped out of my shelf, like one of those horrible ads. And I ended up reading it.
So, what did I think of the story as a whole?
Mansfield Park is a tranquil and warm development of a love story where the reader can get an accurate description of 19th century morals, manners and traditions. However, not being an Austen devotee, I struggled to understand and accept certain parts of the work. I really appreciate the quality of the writing, the witty humor and the complex characters and I certainly loved some of the chapters. In fact, I remember myself needing to read Mansfield Park.
However, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to give Austen a try. Although most people would recommend Pride and Prejudice, I think it is easier to sympathize with the environment and the characters in Mansfield Park. Many bloggers have pointed out it is one of Austen’s less favourite works out there and I think it is a pity. The story as a whole is beautiful, the characters are more universal and it is easier to relate to them and the whole setting is simply inspiring and calm. This book can represent a break if you had a bad, stressful day and want something warm and cozy to dwell into.
Now I will be watching the BBC miniseries as soon as I can get my hands on it. I am very attracted to the 2007 version because Billie Piper, the girl who plays Fanny used to play a call girl in another very successful TV show, so, let’s see how I react having known her in such a different role.
The following account of the book contains spoilers. Click on “continue reading” to see my opinion of Mansfield Park.
At the beginning, I found the story very interesting and I just got caught every time I opened the book. I thought Fanny was too good to be abused like it and I felt Edmund had something more to give than simple advice. Also, the descriptions of their lives made me green with envy. How wonderful would it be to spend a whole summer walking, reading and just meeting with friends?
Then, when the Crawford siblings appeared, I partly started to lose interest. I hated them both, although I found Henry’s attitude quite funny and I could see how boys like him keep fooling girls nowadays. But Mary, oh Mary! How I hated her! I could see her hypocrisy, her happy-go-lucky attitude, always getting along with everyone and taking advantage of them… I could clearly relate her to many women I know. How can it be that we haven’t changed in 200 years? At this point of the story, I did not really care for Maria or Julia as I thought of them as secondary characters, written so that Fanny can be developed as a complex character: she was everything they were not.
I started to get bored with the book by the time Fanny is sent to her parents’. I think that, by then, the story became static and it only made me want to rush to the end of the book. Probably, Austen dilating the ending was a good strategy but I felt the rhythm of that part did not match the rest of the book. On the other hand, it was necessary to make Fanny a little bit fond of Henry before he truly demonstrated who he was, right? I think we can all relate to that, don’t we?
By the end of the book, I desperately wanted Edmund and Fanny to get together, but I thought it too impossible since he had said Mary Crawford was the only woman he could have considered as a wife. Then, with some introspection, he finally realizes he loves Fanny and there we have the happy ending… which I felt was a little bit out of the blue. Maria and Julia’s end was too much Pride and Prejudice for my taste and I would have appreciated some innovation.
Regarding Emund and Fanny getting together, I found it a bit gross from a modern, scientific point of view, since they were cousins in blood and brought up together as brother and sister so… a part of me was disgusted at the idea, but another part was so terribly happy that they were eventually together!