Mansfield Park from The Complete Works of Jane Austen
By Jane Austen
I knew going in that Mansfield Park was not one of Austen’s most loved works but I had high hopes. I’d yet to run into a story I didn’t like so why would this one be different? Oh, what a question to be answered. I struggled with Mansfield Park. I never thought of quitting but when the general pattern I’m so happy to find in her books didn’t appear but a group of hateful characters did; it made me wonder what I was reading. There was no one for me to become attached to. No love story to speak of. Scandal, debauchery, and laziness were in abundance though.
Fanny Price is all of 10 years-old when she’s packed off to live with her aunt, Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. A timid creature, Fanny does her best to fade into the background. Having been told since her arrival by her other aunt, Mrs. Norris, she knows she’s not much to look at, nor should she ever be ungrateful for all her aunt and uncle have done for her. When the Crawford’s, a brother and sister duo of trouble, come to stay at the nearby parsonage, Fanny’s cultivated quiet life changes drastically.
There is a lot of Jane Austen here to like — it’s witty, humorous, there’s sharp dialogue, and societal mockery. There’s also a boatload of dislikable characters. For instance, Mrs. Norris. She’s like the Mrs. Danvers of the Austen universe. She’s mean, caustic, and cheap. Oh so cheap. While she never tries to get Fanny to off herself, she does all she can to make sure Fanny knows she’s no Bertram either and is certainly no help to her self-esteem. I did find her amusing in a way though especially when she’s lifting things like jam and thread from others for her own personal use. Lady Bertram is so lazy it’s a wonder she can breathe on her own. She’s incapable of making any decisions and is forever asking her husband or sons if she likes something. How can you not know if you like something? Tom, Maria, and Julia Bertram are so self-centered they didn’t even register with me — even when scandal overtakes them. Edmund is interesting, being the only one willing to speak his conscience, but he’s also annoying especially when he gets blind-sighted by Miss Crawford. And now we come to the Crawford’s. They do add life to the story and their scheming of course makes you love to hate them, but yes, there’s a but. Because I saw it (I’m not going to tell you what it is.) coming I honestly wanted it to be over knowing good ol’ stout Fanny wouldn’t fall for it.
This has me wondering about another Austen book, Emma. I never liked that character either and never finished the book. I’m willing to give it a go but it might be a long minute before I get to it. Lady Susan is next on my Austen tome list. I enjoy epistolary novels so my hopes are once again high.
In time, I may go back to this one for a re-read. I might feel differently about it a second time.