Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mansfield Park: Jane Austen

I enjoyed this story of a young girl who was taken in by her aunt and uncle because her own parents cannot afford to support all their children. Thus, Fanny Price grows up in a much wealthier and educated family than the one she was born into. As she grows up, Fanny is made very much aware that she is less educated and not of the same station as her cousins. She misses her parents and her siblings, especially her older brother, William. Her new family has two girls and two boys and all of them are older than she is. Fanny is befriended by one of her male cousins, Edmund, who is six years older. The others pretty much ignore her.

The first three chapters (of nearly forty) cover from the time Fanny joins the Bertram's at Mansfield Park at about 10 years of age until she is about 16 or 17. At that point, her cousins Maria and Julia are looking for husbands and the rest of the story covers the ups and downs of their flirtations, courtships, and marriages.

Both because of her younger age and because she is  not of the same social status as her cousins, Fanny does not expect to be a part of the associated festivities and is usually more of a looker on. Although Fanny has had many of the benefits of being raised at Mansfield Park, there is a clear difference between her and her spoiled cousins, who are demanding and think little of others. Fanny has turned into a lovely and kind young lady, but is often treated as more of a companion and a servant to her two aunts.  Especially by her Aunt Norris, who doesn't want to see her get any special treatment at all.

Complex relationships develop between the Bertram daughters and sons and other young people in the area. A wealthy brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, move into the area. Fanny's two female cousins (Maria and Julia) are both in love with Henry and in competition for his affections, even though the eldest already has a fiancé. Mary Crawford is attracted to Edmund Bertram, but isn't happy with his lower prospects financially as a younger son.


A very interesting part of the story for me was the plans by the young people to perform a play. Tom, the eldest son, starts up construction in one part of the house to have a stage for the performance. Fanny's uncle, usually very much in charge of the events in the household, is away in Antigua and Edmund and Fanny are sure that he would not approve the performance of a play in his home. But even Aunt Norris, who has been left in charge while Lord Bertram is gone, supports the endeavor. In the end there are ruinous relationships and broken friendships.

Later, Fanny returns to live with her own lower-middle-class family for several months. In this section the chasm between her family and her adopted family is very clear. Her main joy in this visit is seeing more of her favorite brother William but he is quickly shipped off to sea on a new assignment. She is shocked by the rowdy and rude behavior of her siblings and sees the reality of life without the luxuries of Mansfield Park where there were servants to cook and clean.

There are several very interesting (and maddening) characters. Lady Bertram has hardly any interest in her children and is very passive, refusing to make decisions. Her sister, Aunt Norris, is a busybody, controlling and manipulative, and very unkind to Fanny.

I personally liked Fanny a lot, but some readers find her bland. At one point she rejects a proposal of marriage because she does not care for the young man, nor does she believe that his sentiments are sincere, and I respect her sticking to her convictions. Some Bertram family members are disappointed with her behavior. I would have liked her to share her opinions and speak up for herself, but due to her upbringing and being treated with little affection for so many years, I  can see how this could have shaped her quiet, submissive behavior.

So far in my reading of Jane Austen's books (this book and Pride and Prejudice), it seems the stories focus on marriage and the importance of the proper choices of mates (with sufficient resources). All of this was very important in those times, and the book highlights the limited options for women. Another theme is family relationships, especially those between parents and children.

I bought an annotated copy of Mansfield Park to read, but I found it really wasn't useful for a first read. Too distracting from the story. Luckily I had another copy to read. But afterwards, I did enjoy reading through some of the notes and picking up more information on facts and attitudes of the times. This is a book I am sure I will reread and probably enjoy even more on a second read.

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Publisher:   The Folio Society, London, 1959 (orig. pub. 1814)
Length:      364 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copies.

20 comments:

  1. I haven't read this one for ages but I like Fanny very much. She offers an interesting observational perspective on the 'typical' Austen upper class character.

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    1. That is true, Bernadette. Aside from the fact that I just like Fanny's story, I think I sympathize with her because I was very shy as a child and did not speak up much at all.

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  2. I do like the way Austen was able to hold up a lens to her own society, Tracy. And I think this is a good example of how she did it.

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    1. Now why can't I say things like that as well as you and Bernadette, Margot. I will be reading at least two more Austen books soon, Northanger Abbey and Emma, and I look forward to comparing those to the two I have already read.

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  3. Just bought an annotated edition of Emma that I am planning to spend a lot of time enjoying!

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    1. I am envious, Sergio. I am reading Emma in October (so, very soon) and looking forward to it. This is one where I know the story (from movies) but haven't read it, so that will be different.

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  4. Nicely reviewed, Tracy. I doubt I could review a Classic as well as you have. I still have to read Jane Austen who occupies pride of place in my wife's collection.

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    1. Thank you, Prashant, I feel really intimidated when writing about a classic. But I am enjoying reading them, so far, and I am sure you will too.

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  5. I have read and enjoyed all of them. I made my husband read EMMA recently and although he complained a lot about tea parties and balls, he has mentioned it enough that I think he secretly enjoyed it.

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    1. I have Emma and Northanger Abbey scheduled for October and November, Patti, but I hope I end up reading them all within the next few months. I have gotten so much out of the two I have read so far. I think you are right, your husband must have liked Emma to still be thinking about it.

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  6. I'm glad to see how much you have enjoy Jane Austen. You weren't going to do this one originally, if I remember rightly.

    I found it kind of hard to keep liking Fanny during the scenes of her back home in Portsmith. Did you think she slipped into class snobbery a bit. It felt like Sir Thomas' plan to make her miss Mansfield Park worked too well and came of kind of classist to me.

    But I did enjoy the book over all.

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    1. You are right, James, I had planned to skip Manchester Park in September, and I am glad I changed my plans.

      It was kind of funny and sad that Fanny was so critical of her family and their living conditions and behavior when she visited so many years later. Her reactions were similar to how her cousins reacted to her when she first arrived.

      I am reading Emma now. This has turned into a great reading project for me.

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  7. I enjoy this book very much as a story, a good solid novel with a lot of plot, but am not that keen on Fanny. But it is very interesting book with lots to think about. I love the idea of an annotated version, and Sergio mentions annotated Emma above - I am very intrigued and must find out more about that.

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    1. Moira, I would like to see what different various annotated versions offer. Glen sent me some links for some very nice ones at Harvard U. press recently but they are bigger and more expensive. The size is a problem for me, I just won't spend that much time with them if they are awkward to read.

      But I am sure all of them offer a lot of information about the times and the books that would be useful and interesting to me.

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  8. Mansfield Park was one of the Austens that grew on me more with rereading. I would rather have liked the story of the Crawfords, though.
    Hope you enjoy Emma and Northanger Abbey - Emma is one of the best and Northanger Abbey is a lot of fun.

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    1. I agree, Sandy, the story of the Crawfords would be very interesting. I wasn't sure exactly what was going on with them until the end (and maybe not even then).

      I am enjoying Emma now, although I am only three chapters in.

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  9. Heh. I too started with an annotated edition, and wished I hadn't; better for a second or third reading, I think. But I too liked Fanny. I think she was very much a victim of circumstance.

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    1. I enjoyed going back to the annotated version after finishing the book, Amy, and it had a nice timeline for the events that helped me. I know I will enjoy it even more in the future.

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