August 18, 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park encompasses not only Jane Austen’s great comedic gifts and her genius as a historian of the human animal, but her personal credo as well—her faith in a social order that combats chaos through civil grace, decency, and wit.

At the novel’s center is Fanny Price, the classic “poor cousin,” brought as a child to Mansfield Park by the rich Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife as an act of charity. Over time, Fanny comes to demonstrate forcibly those virtues Austen most admired: modesty, firm principles, and a loving heart. As Fanny watches her cousins Maria and Julia cast aside their scruples in dangerous flirtations (and worse), and as she herself resolutely resists the advantages of marriage to the fascinating but morally unsteady Henry Crawford, her seeming austerity grows in appeal and makes clear to us why she was Austen’s own favorite among her heroines.

/Source: Goodreads/

My Thoughts
I am a Jane Austen addict, there’s no doubt about that. And, it is a well-known theory of mine that everybody will find something in at least one of her works. The situations and characters depicted in Jane Austen’s books are absolutely natural – that is to say, everything looks true to life. She had a thorough knowledge of the human nature, which is why her books, her ideas are timeless and boundless. Someone who read her oeuvre will be able to recognize the Mr Collinses, Mr and Mrs Bennets, Mrs Jenningses, Mr Woodhouses, etc, etc among his/her relatives, friends, or acquaintances, and laugh at them heartily, if he/she has a good sense of humour. This is what the magic of Jane Austen consists in, and the primary reason why I adore Jane Austen.

Having said this, I must admit that Mansfield Park was a major disappointment to me. It wasn’t the writing or the plot that I disliked. There were lots of readers who emphasized in their reviews that the book had dragged. I don’t share this view. Even though there was something in the plot that I rather disliked – those long chapters in which the young people wanted to put on a play, and in the end, it was busted –, I didn’t find the story/book boring. That was no problem for me. What I had a problem with was the romance. . .

Warning: From this point forward, the review contains spoilers about this and other Jane Austen works! 

The thing is, I actively dislike Edmund. In my opinion, he is the most stupid and egoistic hero Jane Austen had ever created. Consider all the other heroes: They are all clever; there’s not one among those who could be mislead by scheming women or men. Mr Darcy would never get caught in the trap of Miss Bingley; Mr Knightley can’t be fooled by Mr Churchill or Mr Elton; and, of course, Colonel Brandon knows the real character of Mr Willoughby. What is more, even Edward Ferrars, who indeed bears some similarity to Edmund Bertram, sees clearly how conniving Lucy and how superior Eleanor is.

By contrast, Edmund doesn’t see the obvious; he doesn’t even see FANNY. For example, there is a scene in which they go together to the Crawfords to dine with them, and Fanny looks especially smart that evening. And what does Edmund say to Fanny, upon seeing her? “Your gown seems very pretty. I like these glossy spots. Has not Miss Crawford a gown something the same?” (p. 227). Isn’t that scandalous? He makes it even worse, when some time later, he dares to compare and even equate Mary Crawford with Fanny, in saying: “I would not have the shadow of a coolness between the two [. . .] in whose characters there is so much general resemblance in true generosity and natural delicacy as to make the few slight differences [. . .] no reasonable hindrance to a perfect friendship." (p. 270). Unacceptable!

These are statements that no other Austen hero, not even Edward, would have made. Edward was stupid enough to have fallen for a girl such as Lucy, but he recognises his mistake at the very moment when he first encounters a truly kind and intelligent woman. And he suffers from his mistake. Edmund, on the other hand, is so stupid and blinded by love that I can’t believe for a second that his heart will ever change. He even assures me of that, when he says: "I cannot give her up, Fanny. She is the only woman in the world whom I could ever think of as a wife" (p. 434).

And, when I thought it couldn’t be worse, Edmund said something that convinced me that he was so self-centred that Fanny should rather run away from him. It happens almost at the end of the novel. Upon waking up from his daydream and seeing Mary Crawford as she is, at last, Edmund speaks to Fanny thus: “No wonder — you must feel it — you must suffer. How a man who had once loved, could desert you! But yours — your regard was new compared with — Fanny, think of me!” (p. 459). REALLY?! How nice! Think of ME, ME, ME! What else has this poor woman been doing all the time hitherto?!! Has she ever thought of herself?

For all these reasons, not by any stretch of imagination can I believe that the love between Fanny and Edmund would ever bear fruit in true life. And to be honest, I do not even wish that. Even though I prefer happy to tragic endings, I would be happier, if this story had ended without a happy end. As you may infer, even though I finished this novel on June 13, I’m still annoyed and still believe that Fanny deserves so much better and Edmund should rot in the marriage hell made by Miss Crawford. . . Pardon me for saying so, Jane!

Favourite Quotes
But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is a part of an Englishman's constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them everywhere; one is intimate with him by instinct. No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately. (p. 347)
We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be. (p. 425)

Title:
Author:
Jane Austen
Publisher:
Everyman's Library
Release Date:
1992
Format:
Hardcover
Length:
488 Pages
ISBN:
978-0679412694
Language:
English
Source:
Owned
Rating:
3 out of 5 cherries

7 comments:

  1. I love that I have never managed to use ouevre in a post before...but I did in my MP wrap up post...as did you :-)

    I also struggled with the romance but eventually came around to the idea that Edmund was one of those characters that had to have a bad relationship experience before he could really appreciate a good one.

    Not the most convincing or romantic idea I know. But I do know people like this. And that's what JA does so well - she draws people you know.

    Great review.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Brona!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting on my blog! I love to us words such as oeuvre, I confess. ;-) And I'm happy you enjoyed my review. Yeah, I see how one could argue in favour of Edmund, and yes, I also know such people, but I still wish he would have had an AHA moment. You know, a moment in which he suddenly recognises that Mary is not worth lamenting and that Fanny is the most attractive woman he has ever met.

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  2. A lot of people share this view and think Fanny would have been better off with Henry Crawford.
    I'm certainly guilty of being blinded by love to the point of being oblivious to anyone else so I can sympathize with Edmund. I also think that his experience with Mary is what makes him the ideal choice in the end - he was fooled once and I think it becomes clear he'll never be so again. This is a pattern that's not uncommon in Austen as she introduces many foils in her books that make good characters really shine. Elizabeth compares Wickham with Darcy to Darcy's advantage, Marianne compares Willoughby to Brandon, etc.
    Sure it's the reserve here since it's the heroine's love interest who's enlightened but I think it strenghtens their bond.

    I happen to like Mary Crawford though so I'm not sure how good a foil she is ;)

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  3. I can see how Edmund's ways can be rather annoying - us readers can go "gaaaah you stupid ..., can't you see what she really is about and how wrong she is" and so on :) But just as previous commenter, I have myself been in the position where having so strong feelings for someone, even if the sensible side of you does notice all those things that are wrong and off, you tend to find excuses. Although I must say, that quote you bring out where he goes ME ME ME did disturb me a lot and Edmund overall didn't make a big impact for me.

    This was my second Austen novel to read (first was Persuasion) and I liked it more than I thought, especially since so many people seem to consider it her worst - to be honest, I really liked Fanny's quiet ways. I hope to write my own review during the weekend.

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  4. You accusation of Edmund is so true! Sometimes I wanted to slap him in the face for not seeing the obvious things... I don't like stupid men :) But really, Fanny is not much more likable, so I guess their boring, boring family is what they both deserve...

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  5. Great review! I forgot about some of the things Edmund says in the book and how they made me cringe. Hmm, he is a cad! I also forgot about the whole play business.

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  6. One of these days I'll read another Austen book in full besides P&P. I've seen the movies though...which makes me sound like a horrible book lover :) Although now I know not to start with this one!

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