April 14, 2008

Mansfield Park: Review

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I remember trying to read Mansfield Park years ago and not finishing it. I wondered why. I wonder no more.

Fanny Price's mother made an 'unfortunate' marriage to a sailor to annoy her family and lives to regret it when she has a bunch of children they can't provide for. Mrs Price's sisters, Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris, in a sudden act of charity invite Fanny to live with the Bertram's. For eight years, Fanny lives with the Bertram's but not as one of them. Lady Bertram, ignores her, but she ignores all her children. Mrs Norris harasses Fanny day and night, reminding her of her place. Sir Thomas is too busy to notice any of his family and the children are all spoilt. The only friend she has is cousin Edmund who's the bees knees to Fanny. For the most part, she isn't ill treated, except for Aunt Norris's constant badgering. She's fairly content until two things happen to shake up her world: Sir Thomas leaves for Antigua and the Crawford's arrive in the neighbourhood.

Good gravy, Fanny is the most frustrating Austen heroine. She doesn't have the spunk or the vivaciousness of Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. In fact, Mansfield Park lacks the spark of the other Austen novels. It's not surprising, since this is a later work after the death of Jane's father and a grim future of spinsterhood spread out before her. I can imagine she was depressed. Fanny doesn't light up the scenes. For most of the novel, she's little more than a chair or a table. In the scene taking up space but not participating.

Fanny is such a fuddy-duddy for an eighteen year old. I can see her wringing her hands and tsking to herself. A play! Boys and girls fraternizing! Dogs and cats living together! Oh noes! Her attachment to Edmund is creepy. He's a substitute for her brother William. She can't clear her throat without wondering if it's okay with him. Edmund is hardly a hero. He's completely clueless. When he remembers Fanny, he's very kind but he's easily distracted especially by a much more interesting woman- Miss Crawford.

The novel drags on until about the last 40 pages when action and scandal occurs only to level off into ho-hum again. I can only recommend Mansfield Park if you want the full Jane Austen Experience.

18 comments :

  1. Oh, dear! We usually agree about books, but I'm afraid we disagree about Mansfield Park. For various reasons, it's my favorite of Jane Austen's novels. I even guest blogged about it, more or less, on AustenBlog. But I will forgive you this one lapse!;)

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  2. I'm definitely with you on this one. When we read this in the Jane Austen class I took back in the summer of 86, we nearly rioted when the professor suggested that Fanny changes during the novel...his lame example was that at the beginning of the novel, Fanny sees the scenery in a bleak sort of way then near the end of the novel she sees the same scenery in a more positive light. We nearly shouted him down saying no way, she's static, lifeless and one woman even called her a Frankenstein's monster before it was animated by the doctor. Everyone was relieved to go onto Emma.

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  3. Mmm. I've never had the urge to read this one particularly. Now I know why!

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  4. Sorry, Rob. I thought to myself, "Rob's not going to like what I say." I knew you really liked it.

    Bybee- I kept waiting for a big change and it never really came. Things & people changed around her but she stayed the same. It was all luck, how it turned out in the end.

    Andi- You might be like Rob and really like it. Don't let me sway you!

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  5. Yeah. I agree. I can see some merit in her social criticisms, but it's soooo preachy and everyone's so unlikeable. I'll do without it, thanks. :)

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  6. I would like to read more of her writing (I have only read Pride and Prejudice), but I guess I won't be starting with this one!

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  7. There seems to be a fairly good consensus that this isn't the greatest of Jane's works. I haven't read this one but I can say that I certainly haven't enjoyed any movie version of it which doesn't bode well for me picking up the book.

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  8. Melissa- I found her very preachy as well.

    Rhinoa- I wouldn't start with this one either, no. Persuasion is one of my favorites.

    Carl- I avoided the movie versions until I had read the book. I might see it now to compare.

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  9. This is my least favorite Austen. I think understanding more about the play they are putting on would add to the enjoyment of it. It's pretty bleak, and most (all?) of the characters pretty unsympathetic.

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  10. A boring Austen? I'm so disillusioned.

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  11. Tara- Yeah, I didn't like any of them.

    John- Very funny. We know how you feel about Austen.

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  12. Too you didn't like it. I have not read it myself and am not to interested in it. I recently saw the BBC prodution of it on Masterpeice Theatre, and found it my least favorite of all the Austen productions.

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  13. Eeeeks! I bought this book when the movie came out--so 8 years ago? It'll probably collect dust few a little longer. Thanks for the review...

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  14. Hmm, I read Pride & Prejudice at school and recently fell in love with Persuasion, but I must admit that Mansfield Park has always been bottom of my Austen to read list! Even the film didn't particularly grab me. I'm sure I'll read it sometime, but no hurry!

    "You're right, no human being would stack books like this."

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  15. This was the most dissapointing Jane austen book out there. I had loved Persuasion, Pride and Prejudiced, Emma, and Sense and sensibility and i loved them all, so i was excited about reading this one but once i started reading it i was just dying of boredom. I tried to convince myself that it would get better but im sorry to say it didnt. So i stopped reading it.

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  16. I am totally with you on this one. I felt the same reading this book and reviewed it recently on my blog

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  17. Mansfield Park is my favourite among Jame Austen's books. Not that I am fond of Fanny - CERTAINLY not, but that is exactly the point. She is not somebody you notice or find attractive. But she has virtues and sound principles, and ultimately Jane Austem values these more than wit or vivacity.
    It is her most subtle, complex and insightful novel.

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  18. I just saw the 1999 movie version and I absolutely loved it! I mean it's no pride and prejudice, but I loved it none the less because of Crawford's love for her which Fanny couldn't entirely return. It was so romantic! I loved Fanny's inner struggle, she was really trying to love Crawford for the sake of her future but she couldn't. I think part of her did like him. It reminds me of Bella. But I never got a chance to read the actual book. I only read Emma, Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility, all really good books. I look forward to reading Mansfield park. It's a really nice story :).

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