Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

  —   $7.00   —   Book

product page



Mansfield Park features a heroine totally unlike any of Austen's other heroines. Instead of being witty, she is shy and afraid of speaking out of turn. Instead of being strong and healthy, she is frail. And instead of pushing her limits, she is frightened by impropriety.

Young Fanny (Frances) Price was brought into the high society of Mansfield Park at the age of ten as a favor to her mother, whose ever-increasing brood of children is oppressive on her family's small income. Fanny's aunts are pretty horrible; her rich aunt is a lazy do-nothing and her Aunt Norris is an interfering busybody who always advises that Fanny is taught her place, i.e. a charity case who needs to be made useful. (The "usefulness" usually wears out the fragile Fanny, something which Mrs. Norris discounts as she is strong and healthy herself.) Fanny's uncle is a good sort but his stern manner has caused her to fear him, a fear which turns out to be unjustified.

Fanny's female cousins are beautiful and bright, and unfortunately a bit too much doted on. Spoiled is the appropriate term - they are a bit wild and inclined to think too much of their talents. When Mr. and Miss Crawford join the society of Mansfield Park, both girls immediately latch onto young Harry, who flirts with them outrageously, and cousin Edmund - who has been Fanny's only source of kindness and sobriety, and whom she dotes on secretly - falls for Miss Crawford, who likes him back but wants society instead of marrying the clergyman he is destined to become. The Crawfords are likewise brilliant and charming but are a bit coarse in their manners, something Fanny seems unique in noticing.

And then Harry starts pursuing Fanny, much to her great surprise, and as usual, Mrs. Norris agitates for her "best interests" even though Mr. Crawford repulses her. The happy ending seems a bit contrived, as this is a moral piece; it feels a little like Jane Austen couldn't allow the reforming virtues of Fanny and Edmund to do their work properly; she had to stress that bad upbringing left its mark on people's characters. Still, Fanny is a very likeable character, painfully shy but sympathetic. Thankfully, she is fully appreciated by the end of the novel - she is not the sort of person to assert her rights.

No comments: