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.