Publisher: N/A (but I’d wager Vintage’s a good one)
ISBN: N/A (Vintage’s is 978-0-099-51186-1)
First Published: 1814
Date Reviewed: 8th May 2014
Fanny moved to Mansfield to live with wealthy relations and now, at eighteen, she’s very much settled and happy, despite being the family’s errand girl and companion. When the Crawford siblings enter their society, Fanny is suspicious – they don’t seem to be people her cousins should be associating with, and as the days continue she worries for her cousins’ futures. Many say she’s wrong about the Crawfords. Is she?
Mansfield Park is a lot quieter, so to speak, than Austen’s other novels, and quite different overall.
The major difference is Fanny – she may prove a difficult heroine to like. Part of this is due to Austen not giving the reader (at least it seems so – maybe the little was enough in the day?) information as to the Crawfords’ natures, instead letting Fanny’s feelings do the talking. This isn’t very successful as Fanny can, for the lack of information, seem over-the-top. Fanny is quiet and confident but she is often in the background and sometimes quite literally. And not at all in that theatrical way where the person at the back is the stronger person. Although Austen details her, it never really feels like she is the main character.
To the modern reader, Fanny may be difficult to relate to. Her scruples in regards to theatre seem silly and overboard today, and where Mary Crawford is slightly ahead of her time, Fanny is very much of her time.
Referring back to Austen’s lack of detailing, in the case of Mary, the ‘bad’ traits are more obvious – Mary wants to marry someone of equal or more wealth than her, and she doesn’t want to marry a clergyman. This is interesting to consider, given that wanting someone of equal wealth wasn’t exactly uncommon at the time, nor seen as bad, and it’s not particularly glaring today, either. It could be said that not wanting to marry a clergyman is simply personal taste.
It is more in the case of Mary’s sudden shifts in affection that the bad traits lie. Austen’s presentation of Henry leads you to realise that he likes women, with emphasis on the plural, but it can come across on occasion as the case of a boy who is happy in the presence of girls and to have the opportunity to have a preference, that he hasn’t before been given the chance to really think about what and who he wants. Certainly Henry reads more the immature boy than the noticeably deceitful man, and Mary’s opinion that he would change, well, there’s the feeling that she could be right.
Despite Fanny and the somewhat dubious plot, there is a lot of laugher to be had in reading the book. There is a specific section during which you could consider Austen had realised there was a lack of joy in her story and decided that had to be remedied.
The ending of Mansfield Park is very quick and the author moves away from dialogue to give you a summary of events. The reader may feel short-changed by this, however Austen does say of a specific aspect that readers all consider timing differently and so you are left to decide on timing yourself.
Quieter, with a heroine who does little and with not much in the way of story, Mansfield Park is a very different Austen, but worth reading nonetheless. Certainly it is the novel most set in its time.
May 26, 2014, 6:54 am
Never read this one, I have only watched the movies
May 26, 2014, 9:44 am
Wonderful review, Charlie! I haven’t read ‘Mansfield Park’ but have seen the movie version starring Frances O’Connor. There was some controversy when the movie came out because Austen connoisseurs felt that the script writers had included Austen’s own life in the movie, in Fanny’s character. I loved the movie though. Your comment on Fanny’s scruples with respect to the theatre was very insightful. I haven’t thought about it before but after reading your comment I realize that it makes a lot of sense. Acting in a play (in later times acting in a movie) or singing publicly were things that were frowned upon once upon a time and it is interesting that Austen depicts that. I would love to read the novel sometime and compare Fanny’s views with Mary Crawford’s. For some reason I feel that I might side with Mary Crawford.
May 26, 2014, 10:28 am
This is the only Austen novel I haven’t read yet. I really should read it soon!
May 26, 2014, 1:13 pm
I’m also planning to re-read this one this year, about 10 years after the first time. I’m really curious about what I’ll think about it because back then… well, I was less that impressed.
What really surprises me is that Fanny can, as you say, come off as over-the-top, but at the same time you can really see Austen’s efforts towards making her the perfect heroine.
May 26, 2014, 8:27 pm
I’ve been listening to a Radio 4 adaptation the last two weeks, it was so good it really got me wanting to read the book. I think it’s given me a different perspective than had I not heard it first.
I’ve not found Fanny over the top thus far, but i’m not very far into the novel. I think I may love her as much as I do Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Something about Austen’s quieter characters really speak to me.
I definitely agree that Fanny is very of her time and Mary Crawford very forward thinking. I think modern readers need to think carefully about Mary, she certainly isn’t a villain. A modern day Edmund would definitely have ended up with Mary over Fanny.
May 26, 2014, 8:44 pm
I first read this book as a teenager immediately after Pride and Prejudice, which I loved, and I found this one very boring in comparison. A couple of years ago I decided to re-read it and I enjoyed it much more than the first time, though it will never be one of my favourite Austen novels.
May 26, 2014, 9:39 pm
I’ve got to reread Mansfield Park, it’s been years since I did. I don’t think I’ve read it since college actually! — we were reading it for a class about how slavery figures into British novels. (Not that much, in the case of Mansfield Park.) But I do remember feeling that Henry got short-shrifted. I agree that he could have changed, even DID change, but that Austen kind of sold him out in the end so that she could have the ending she wanted for Fanny.
May 27, 2014, 5:02 am
I’ve started and abandoned this several times, but I have a goal to finish it this year. I don’t think it’s anyone’s favorite Austen, but I do believe the Crawford’s are fascinating characters and lead to lots of discussion. I hope to get to it sometime this summer!
May 27, 2014, 1:37 pm
I like the way this one comes out of the tradition of the indigent relative (A Little Princess, Harry Potter) and makes her the moral center of the family that adopts her. Fanny does seem sober, at times, but it’s a welcome contrast to the flightiness of Maria and Julia.
May 28, 2014, 7:03 am
Mansfield Park and Persuasion are my two favourite Austen novels. Fanny is an introvert but she knows her own heart and is not going to be persuaded to betray her feelings. She might not say much but she’s perceptive and brave and loyal. Those aren’t bad qualities to have. I think that MP is more realistic than Austen’s other novels: it’s like a little snapshot of history and readers get an excellent insight into the social and cultural atmosphere of the time. Yep. I do like MP a lot. :)
May 28, 2014, 10:05 pm
This is one of many Austen novels I have yet to read, but want to at some point. I love Austen’s writing style, although it sometimes takes me a little bit to get into her books just the same.
May 31, 2014, 5:15 pm
Mansfield Park always feels more slow and quiet to me, but I do really love it. I seem to be an odd one out though..
June 7, 2014, 12:15 pm
Blodeuedd: Which do you recommend most?
Vishy: Yes, I read that the film focused on themes that aren’t in the book. From an accuracy point of view it sounds one to miss, but as a film by itself not so bad. Yes, the scruples regarding theatre do make sense in the context of the time, whereas it of course seems silly to us now (and I wonder if, given the way the characters were written, whether we shouldn’t actually view those characters through a more modern lens, even if that wasn’t possible then – in other words I think it’s worth it, in this book, to sometimes view it in both contexts, then and now). It’s very likely you’d side with Mary – she’s still relevant now, whereas I’d say Fanny’s time has passed.
Jessica: It is worth the read, but as my position was the same – it was the last Austen I had left – I’d say don’t have high hopes. In hindsight I wish I’d not left it last.
Alex: Interesting. I’ve only read it the once, but I’d guess that you’d feel the same as you did then. I agree about Austen’s efforts. It’s interesting that it is obvious in this book whereas the others are effortless, really. Given that she often comes across as being ahead of her time, maybe she secretly liked Mary better?
Alice: It does take some time for Fanny’s colours to show. She is quieter but compared to Anne I’d say Anne wins hands down (and I don’t particularly like Persuasion). I agree. Edmund, today, would find Mary fair more interesting and full of life.
Helen: Yes, Pride And Prejudice is far better in comparison (well, I’m biased, but I’d venture most people would agree). That makes sense – I think if you’ve no expectations Mansfield Park could work better, but yes, given its context as an Austen novel, it’s just so different.
Jenny: I like that thought, selling out. She definitely liked Fanny a bit too much, I think!
Anbolyn: The Crawfords are excellent, and dare I say there’s a lot more to discuss with them than Fanny.
Jeanne: True, it’s good to have that difference between her and the sisters.
Violet: I agree about her being brave and loyal. She is incredibly loyal and it’s nice to see. I just think sometimes it blinds her to other opinions.
Literary Feline: I’d suggest not making it the last, definitely have another or more to read after it. I find it takes me a time, too, especially when I’ve not read older literature for a while.
Iris: Maybe, though that’s far from a bad thing.