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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (thoughts on rereading)

January 11, 2012


I’ve never understood why so many readers dislike Fanny Price. While she’s certainly more quiet and less self-assured than some of Austen’s other heroines (I would argue that Catherine Morland is ‘worse’ though), she has the strength of her convictions and stays true to herself despite her deeply dependent position and considerable pressure from others. In all of that, I admire her. I also empathise with her homebody nature: she’s happiest sitting quietly at home, spending time with the people she loves. While I do enjoy going out, and at parties am happy to talk to people (including strangers), I get just as much pleasure out of staying in, with considerably less effort. ;) And she has such a fierce loyalty towards those she loves, which is quite delightful to see.

Anyway, upon revisiting Mansfield Park this time around, I was struck by Austen’s focus on portraying the difference between the surface of people and their inner characters. Of course, this is a frequent theme with her, but one that she seems particularly interested in driving home in this novel. From Sir Thomas Morland, who is quite fond of Fanny and determined to treat her well, but whose somewhat gruff manner makes her nervous of him, to the more obvious suspects such as Mary Crawford, whose pleasant manners and humorous conversation masks a rather amoral, egotistic approach to life, Austen challenges her readers to look past what a character says and instead see them for who they are.

So I love Mansfield Park for its ‘message’ and heroine, but I also love it as a piece of writing! While Fanny lacks the witty banter of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s narrative voice contains plenty of wry humour; I frequently found myself giggling. And Mrs. Norris has to be Austen’s best villain: her unabated cruelty to Fanny and self-deceptive nature is pitch perfect.

In sum, I’m surprised that Mansfield Park is often ranked lowest in Austen’s canon. I think it’s a rich book that works on multiple levels, and I always find myself rooting for Fanny and her quiet morals to win the day. The ‘bad’ characters are all at heart selfish, a vice which creates just as many problems and havoc in the modern world as it did in Austen’s time (and thus I don’t see this as a prissy novel in the slightest). And as always, I find myself renewed in my love for Austen. If you’re new to her, I certainly think Mansfield Park would be an interesting place to begin (especially if you want to get to know her without the ghosts of film adaptations drifting through your head!).

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. Jillian ♣ permalink
    January 11, 2012 6:07 am

    I really can’t wait to read this one. I have a feeling I’ll love it. :)

  2. January 11, 2012 6:53 am

    After reading all of Austen’s novels, I ranked Mansfield Park as one of my least favorite, tied with Northanger Abbey. But now I’m reading the cycle again. When I re-read P&P, I appreciated it so much more than the first time around (and I loved it then). This time I’m much more aware of Austen’s writing and her brilliant wit. I’m reading just one each year, so it will be a while before I return to MP, but I’m looking forward to gleaning new insights from re-reading.

  3. January 11, 2012 7:41 am

    I love this book so much. It is by far my favourite Austen. It is such a satisfying story with so much quiet conflict and a fantastic set of characters. Fanny Price is such an inspiration because her determination and her good heart. I have to say there is one point in the book (won’t give anything away) where I always catch my breath and think its all going to go differently this time. I’m going to have to read it again, thanks for making me think of it.

  4. Susan E permalink
    January 11, 2012 8:05 am

    I’m rereading and am about three-quarters of the way through. I’ve always liked Manafield Park– I like Fanny, too, and there’s a richness to the story here, with how the plot unfolds and the layers of perception and interrelationships between the characters and what each knows about the other. And the wit–I’d forgotten how sharp and funny the book is!

  5. January 11, 2012 8:21 am

    It might be a matter of expectations. People usually come to MS after reading other, lighter Austen novels and expect the the same from MP, which feels more grown-up and sober (I think she wrote it after her father died?).

    Mrs. Norris – yes, the nastiest of Austen’s villains. Always thought that Hogwarts’ cat was called Mrs. Norris because of her.

  6. January 11, 2012 8:33 am

    I need to buy me those Vintage editions of all Austen novels and just (re)read them!

    They are beauitiful, aren’t they ? (actually a rhetorical question, no need to reply :D)

  7. January 11, 2012 8:38 am

    I agree with you about Mrs. Norris — she is perfect! I liked Fanny but the rest of the book just didn’t do much for me. I have grown to appreciate it more having read others thoughts on it but it’s not my favorite Austen book.

  8. January 11, 2012 9:16 am

    I’ve been meaning to revisit this one. I don’t know why I didn’t enjoy it the first time I read it. Perhaps I just need to give it another chance!

  9. January 11, 2012 9:57 am

    It had been a while since I read Jane Austen and I recently started listening to Mansfield Park on audiotape. I am an old-fashioned fan of hard copy books so I was surprised by how much the audio enhanced the experience of the book for me. Sometimes it is good to slow down I think.

  10. January 11, 2012 10:32 am

    I love Austen, but I admit that I have not actually read Mansfield Park! Every year I say it will be the year I finally read it, but then I always wind up re-reading one of Austen’s other works instead. So I’ve only ever acquainted myself with this one via film adaptations… the one with Frances O’Connor takes quite a few liberties, I think!

  11. January 11, 2012 11:00 am

    Great review! MP was my second Austen novel after P&P. I picked it up in high school and I guess I was just a little shocked that after seeing S&S and reading P&P, Mansfield Park seemed more serious and grown up. Also a bit more realistic. I felt that there might be some sugar coating in some of her stuff but with all that happens in MP and how it could have ended differently…well it seemed more grown up.

    By the way, there is a fairly good movie adaptation of Mansfield Park with Frances O’Connor as Fanny. It’s not perfect but it’s ok.

  12. January 11, 2012 11:50 am

    I have just finished reading Mansfield Park. I absolutely raced through it, loved it – until the end. I was so disappointed. I liked Henry and Mary Crawford! Possibly I read it too fast and missed some of the nuances about their characters, or maybe it’s a damning indictment of my own character! I totally agree with you about Mrs Norris, she is a fabulous villain.

  13. Ruthiella permalink
    January 11, 2012 1:13 pm

    MP is my least favorite Austen novel, I must admit. Yes, Fanny is good and moral…that is the problem. She is too passive and too good. I prefer Emma and Elizabeth Bennet because they are sometimes unlikable; they do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing and feel the sting of disapproval. I am also with Joanne, I though the Crawford siblings could have been redeemed, they weren’t so bad, with the right partner to temper their liveliness.

    Oh, it just came to me that Mrs. Norris is the name of that cat in Harry Potter. No doubt JK Rowling did that on purpose.

  14. January 11, 2012 1:49 pm

    How very interesting! Totally by coincidence, I opened your blog right next to the Book Snob, where Rachel also posted today on Mansfield Park. But she had the opposite reaction to Fanny (read here). I think a reread is in order for me too, to find my own opinion on her. I think I must have rushed through it in my post-Pride and Prejudice buzz, because I know I read it but can’t seem to find a reaction to Fanny, myself. I did find your two posts interesting back to back, though! I would love to see the two of you argue your points (in a friendly manner of course) with textual support. What fun.

  15. January 11, 2012 2:37 pm

    I fall into the category of initially disliking Fanny, but I think she’s grown on me. I really need to reread this one. I love it so much because it’s Austen, but it’s never been one of my favorites.

  16. January 11, 2012 3:04 pm

    Oh, yay, I’m not the only one who likes Fanny Price! I Mansfield Park has always been one of my favorite Austen’s, although I don’t think very many others feel that way. I can relate to Fanny, though, which might help.

  17. January 11, 2012 3:09 pm

    I am so glad to see a fellow fan of Fanny. :) This was one of my favorite Jane Austen books, and while I was occasionally frustrated with Fanny, I think in general she was delightful.

  18. January 11, 2012 3:19 pm

    This is one of Austen’s that I have yet to read. You highlight the reason why I love to reread. There is always something new to ponder or discover when revisiting a book.

  19. January 11, 2012 5:02 pm

    I’ve had such different responses each time I’ve read Mansfield Park (strangely, the only constant has been disliking Edmund). Sometimes I come away loving Fanny, other times I prefer the selfish but at least transparent Crawfords. I still definitely rank it as my least favourite Austen novel but, without only six to choose from, that’s not a particularly significant ranking. I enjoy it but just can’t dream of placing it ahead of any of the others (the only one it might ever be in competition with is S&S). It’s been a few years since I last reread it and now I’m wondering if I should revisit it again, see which characters I love or hate this time around.

  20. January 11, 2012 5:17 pm

    Don’t shoot me, but I haven’t read any of Austen’s work. I hope to remedy that in 2012…so interesting to see the variety of opinions :)

  21. January 11, 2012 6:18 pm

    I love your review and wrote similarly about it on my blog (www.dustytrailsnporchswings.blogspot.com), much more briefly, though.

  22. January 11, 2012 6:25 pm

    Thank you for you thoughtful review. I’ve read and reread all Jane Austen’s novels (and write in the genre). I’ve always considered Mansfield Park my least favorite, but I’m not really sure why. I don’t dislike Fanny Price. On the contrary, I admire her for the very character traits you brought out. So what is it, I wonder? I hope it’s not, as you alluded to in your closing comment, something as shallow as the fact that I’ve never found a MP film adaptation that I like (I admit that I love having a good novel/film pairing at my disposal; one enhances the enjoyment of the other). Must be time to read MP again!

  23. January 11, 2012 6:48 pm

    I’ve only read Mansfield Park once and it was when I was first discovering Austen. I had just read P&P, S&S, and Emma-all so full of wit and humor. When I got to Mansfield Park, I was just confused. Where was all the sparkle and light? Since then, I’ve read Northanger Abbey twice, Persuasion once (it was my last unread Austen), and the others at least once or twice. I have been afraid to go back to MP…maybe out of fear it would be as I remembered? But something I have realized in rereading Austen is that you notice a far deeper level each time. There is always something underlying the story that is more important. I got that on my most recent read of S&S, so I think I will be ready for it in MP this time around. :)

    And I’m a homebody like Fanny, so I should relate to her!

  24. January 11, 2012 8:26 pm

    I think there are several of us out there who like Fanny! IIRC, there was even someone (Iris, maybe) who did a post referring to a “Secret Fanny Price Fan Club.” This isn’t my favorite Austen, nor is Fanny my favorite heroine, but I did like it and her. I do remember also taking a violent dislike to some of the characters. However, since I’ve only read this one once, several years ago, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it beyond that.

  25. January 12, 2012 6:03 pm

    I’m afraid I’m one of the ones that doesn’t care for Fanny Price. I vastly prefer Emma, who’s way more unsympathetic as a heroine. Fanny’s so — ugh, she’s such a killjoy! Why won’t she let the people have their silly little play? And Edmund’s just as bad. I liked Henry (Henry?) Crawford, and I’ve always felt like Jane Austen didn’t do right by him in the end. I expected he was going to reform, and Fanny was going to get less dull, and then they’d get married. When I got to the end and discovered what really happened, I felt like Jane Austen just couldn’t think of a reason for Fanny not to marry Henry (Henry??) Crawford and tossed in some crazy damn thing to vindicate Fanny. THAT IS WHAT I THINK.

  26. January 14, 2012 6:26 pm

    I recently re-read Northanger Abbey and loved it and Mansfield Park is in my sights for my next Austen re-read. Now that it seems there is a Secret Fanny Price Fan Club going on, I kind of want to make one for Catherine Morland, who is really quite a sweetheart.

  27. January 15, 2012 9:19 am

    I’m not big on Austen but I do enjoy Mansfield Park

  28. January 16, 2012 7:52 am

    I feel exactly the same about Fanny, and I was quite surprised when I first learned that people geerally like Mary better. I’m very happy that I’m not alone in my sympathies ;)

  29. January 16, 2012 11:19 am

    This book has the most amusing, engaging, (and evil? possibly even slightly incestuous?) brother/sister team in lit.

  30. Zoya permalink
    January 20, 2012 11:34 am

    Reason I don’t like Fanny as much as other Austen heroines is probably because she comes across as being meek, submissive and often letting herself be intimidated by her aunt. Understood that coming from a poor family she tries to show gratitude but her silence lets often be ridiculed by her cousins except Edward I suppose. For me, Lizzie Bennet shadows out Emma, Fanny, and the rest.

  31. January 25, 2012 7:20 am

    I’m about to start reading this one. I THINK I saw a movie of it a long while ago, but can’t remember. I’m hoping I really enjoy it!

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  1. Jane Austen – Mansfield Park « Fyrefly's Book Blog

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