on 26 May 2003
Many associate Jane Austen with lively, witty heroines and the joys that come from the triumph of charm and humour over stupidity and formality. That's why so many consider Mansfield Park an abberation, a miserable moralistic tale that is only enlivened by funny caricatures and some entertaining episodes. I disagree with this view. In this book, Jane Austen is showing us that while humour and personality can animate and delight us, there are other things that should not be overlooked. Things like love, respect and integrity. And when Fanny "wins" in the end, I am glad for her. She has been true to what she believes, and while she would probably be as much fun to be with as a pile of paving slabs, she did well to keep her head, "when all about [her] were losing theirs." It goes without saying that the book is a masterpiece, and not one word of it is wasted. It is bursting with incisive - if not cheeky - observations of the strange workings of society (then AND now), and we are allowed many laughs at the expense of all of the characters. Don't be dismayed by this story, or become one of those who likes to "pretend" that Mary Crawford is the real heroine of the book because she is prettier and funnier and sometimes kind. She's a nasty piece of work. Trust the author about this one; she knew what she was writing, and she knew that life just doesn't turn out to be "Pride and Prejudice" for everyone.
on 17 August 2009
I adore audio books and always have one playing away in my car during my commute to work; -- so when I went hunting to purchase a new unabridged audio edition on CD of Jane Austen's novel Mansfield Park, I was quite surprised to learn that my choices were very few at exactly two; a Blackstone AudioBooks, Inc (2008) read by Johanna Ward and a Naxos AudioBooks (2007) read by Juliet Stevenson. My first choice was of course the Juliet Stevenson version, for what Janeite could ever forget her outrageous performance as Mrs. Elton in the 1996 movie adaptation of Emma? My abject apologies to Johanna Ward, who I am sure must be a very fine reader since she has several audio books to her credit, but the thought of listening to Mansfield Park read by Mrs. Elton just intrigued me and gave me the giggles. If anyone could liven up Mansfield Park, reputed to be Jane Austen's most complex and dark novel, she could!
Being a reader for an audio book is not an easy task since so many different `performances' are required to distinguish each of the characters for the listener. I have found through a course of trial and error that I enjoy audio books read by classically trained actors. Juliet Stevenson fills this qualification perfectly for me using every inch of her Royal Shakespearean Company training. Her understanding of Jane Austen's use of language and her true British accent added greatly to my enjoyment of this fine production.
Naxos AudioBooks has made quite a solid commitment to present quality productions of all of Jane Austen's six major novels in unabridged and abridged formats. You can read about all of their recordings on their excellent web site and listen to a PodCast of an interview of Juliet Stevenson as she discusses her involvement in the audio recordings and her affinity to Jane Austen. Of note is the free download for this month of Milton's L'Allegro read by Samantha Bond (Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park 1983 and Mrs. Weston in Emma 1996)
It has been said that Jane Austen often read her writings to her family as entertainments. Her beautiful use of language which just flows effortlessly is completely suited for the spoken word. When you add to perfection an accomplished actress with a keen sensitivity to Jane Austen's particular style, the results truly are remarkable.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
on 26 May 2011
I have re-read Mansfield Park and found it very enjoyable. Somehow over the years I had the impression of Fanny Price sitting uncomplaining in her cold attic, wheras of course the story is all about her emergence from it. Fanny may appear passive, but in fact she develops and blooms in ways which others seem to notice before she does. I was struck by Jane Austen's ironic humour in her depiction of self-deceiving characters, even the noble and correct Edmund only wants Fanny to echo his own infatuated views about the enticing Mary Crawford. And there is much about Fanny's own mixed feelings, trying to be good but actually jealous of others, and always having to conceal her own secret love.
The latter part of the book, where after several years of privileged living at Mansfield Park Fanny goes back to visit her crowded and chaotic parental home in Portsmouth, is well conceived - an interesting and unusual depiction for the author. The idea of home and belonging, the coming to terms with reality is something that more characters than Fanny have to confront. There is humour, but this is not a comic novel. There is something at the core about the nature of true integrity which is almost dark, but not at the cost of a good story, very well told.
Mansfield Park, although certainly regarded as a part of the canon of English literature, is often considered to be the weakest, least dazzling of Austen's novels. Without the witty sparkle of Pride and Prejudice or the gothic indulgence of Northanger Abbey, it has struggled at time to match the popularity of her other titles. But oh, what a treat those who pass over Mansfield Park are missing. Certainly, it is the most disturbing and perhaps the least superficially pleasing of Austen's output but it has rewards aplenty for the careful reader.
Mansfield Park, home of the affluent Bertram family, takes in a young poor relation with the overt intention of giving her the advantages of a good education and good connections while preserving her sense of gratitude and subservience. Fanny, the haplessly lucky chosen beneficiary of such benevolence is uprooted from friends, home, family and all that it familiar to take up residence in the grand house with her grand relations. Austen sets Fanny up as the heroine, designed to evoke the sympathy of the reader: this is a challenge for a modern audience, many of whom will find her weak and too self-deprecating to be genuinely engaging. And similarly, the sins and deficiencies in disposition and feeling with which Austen gifts brother and sister, Mary and Henry Crawford, may seem not so damning today as Austen intended. This however, does little to detract from the overall value of the novel itself. The relationship between the Bertram family and its colonial role (their wealth derives from sugar plantations in Antigua) is only hinted at overtly, but beautifully explored through the metaphorical position of Mansfield as the centre of all that is English. Similarly, contemporary values regarding manners, position, influence and identity are gently rolled out for the reader through the evolving relationship between the Bertrams and their acquaintances and within the family itself. And yet, with all this meat beneath the surface, there is still a gentle and touching domestic love story, which evolves over the course of the novel as the more passionate, less fatalistic engagements and attachments of side characters wax and wane.
Mansfield Park is a masterpiece of English manners, of Englishness and of empire. It is also a pleasure to read from beginning to end. Now, I'm off to start at the beginning again!
on 7 August 2000
I'm quite amazed at the absolute loathing Fanny Price awakens in so many readers - why do people despise the one truly virtuous character, describe her as weak, insipid, boring and all the rest, whereas Maria and Julia, snooty, self-absorbed, conceited bitches who consistently treat Fanny as a doormat, are deemed interesting? Why is virtue so suspicious to modern readers? Why do we prefer sparkling froth (Mary Crawford) to quiet depth (Fanny)? As reviewer Sartoruia states, Fanny has her reasons for being the way she is - quiet, shy, humble, sincere. Why do readers hate these qualities, why is there no empathy for Fanny after the way she has been treated? As for Fanny being weak - are these people crazy? Is it weak to resist the enormous pressure that Fanny was up against to marry Henry Crawford? To escape her position of dependency to become a highly respected woman of stature? What a wonderful revenge it would have been to all those who looked down at her previously: Maria, Julia, Mrs Norris! What freedom, at last! And yet Fanny resists: her love for Edmund is stronger. Is this weakness? She does not fall prey to Henry's Casanova charms, as so many society belles have done. Is this weakness? She sees through his character, recognises him for what he is - a frivolous womanizer. (How many modern-day so-called emancipated woman have fallen for such types! ) She has the strength to stand to her own opinions, and upholds her moral strength in spite of her lowly position. I call that admirable! That is genuine self-esteem, not the shallow self-infatuation readers seem to demand in a heroine.. She is not swayed by Henry's professions of eternal love - for someone who has never known a man's - or anybody's - love, who has no hopes of ever winning the man she loves - this is extraordinary. A lesser woman would have been so hungry for love she'd have melted at such devotion! But Fanny knows what she wants, and finally her quiet strength shines through and wins. This novel is a masterpiece, Fanny is wise, strong, deep, Austen's strongest and most interesting heroine by far.
on 19 December 2015
Reposted from my blog at https://vasusbookcase.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/mansfield-park/
This was a very sobering novel, not nearly as “light & bright & sparkling” as Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey, but at times I found myself very emotional and I truly cared about the book’s characters.
Plot-wise, I liked that the novel followed Fanny, our protagonist, all the way from childhood to the age of nineteen or twenty. This meant that we could see the development not only of Fanny but also of the four cousins she lives with. The pace is gentle and slow, but it never meanders, and I was never bored or confused. Towards the end, there is some real suspense and a dramatic, scandalous climax.
I had mixed feelings about the characters. Fanny herself was extremely complex. By temperament and training extremely meek and mild, she is able to stand up for her beliefs and her integrity. By the end of the novel, she comes out as one of the bravest characters in the book. However, her retiring nature occasionally frustrated me: I wanted her to explain her feelings rather than just sitting there and crying. Her ability to hide her emotions and conceal her love for Edmund was maddening, although admirable. Clearly, other readers have different feelings to me – Google “Fanny Price” and you’ll see pages and pages of declarations that she is boring, overly moralistic, cowardly and dull. For me, Fanny was lovable partly because of her timidity: at first, I felt rather protective of her, but this grew into respect as she displayed her courage. Among the other characters, I loved Fanny’s Aunt Norris, whose utter evil was delightful, even as I hated her for her constant disparaging remarks towards Fanny and her favouritism towards her other nieces. Fanny’s other aunt, Lady Bertram, also added a touch of humour with her extreme laziness and self-absorption. I also liked her oldest son, Tom Bertram, who undergoes an interesting change over the course of the novel. One character I was a little unsure about was Tom’s younger brother – Edmund. I found it difficult to understand why Fanny adored him so, because he spent a large part of the novel obsessed with the shallow, superficially charming Mary Crawford. Although clearly fond of Fanny, he sees her only as a younger sister and pays her not nearly as much attention as she deserves. He also has absolutely no moral courage and is easily led to do things which are against his conscience.
The writing style was a little more difficult than I was used to; I had to pause in places to puzzle out a few sentences. However, this did not detract anything from the novel, and there were some gems in the dialogue (most notably from Aunt Norris). The prose was definitely not as witty as some of Austen’s other novels, but I think this brought out the more serious story and the character of Fanny herself.
To conclude, this was a dark but enjoyable novel which gave me a lot of food for thought. I would recommend it to people aged eleven and up.
on 17 August 2013
I first read this book back when I was a teenager and I wasn't that fussed on it. I didn't take to Fanny Price, the heroine of this tale, thinking that she was a bit of a drip, and I didn't find the story romantic enough. I decided to read the book again wondering how differently I'd see it being that much older. I am so glad I decided to re-read it, as I felt I appreciated it so much more than I did before.
Fanny Price's mother suffers from a surplus of children compared to income. As was fairly common at the time, Fanny is taken in, at age 10 by another relative, her aunt (Lady Bertram) who is married to Sir Thomas Bertram, the owner of Mansfield Park. The Bertrams have 4 children, two boys, Tom and Edmund, and two younger girls, Maria and Julia, the youngest of which is about 2 years older than Fanny. Also heavily involved over at Mansfield Park is Lady Bertram's sister, Mrs Norris. There is no real expectation that Fanny will be brought up as one of them as her prospects would always have been less; she is brought up instead as a poor relation. The children aren't especially all that interested in her, aside from Edmund, 6 years Fanny's senior who takes pity on her and looks after her. Indolent Lady B finds her useful for being at her beck and call and Mrs Norris (who is a truly horrible woman) really dislikes Fanny. Mrs Norris seems to feel that any kindness she shows towards Fanny will somehow be disrespectful towards her other nieces, who she very much spoils. Although taught good manners the Bertram children are not encouraged to learn good principles - they aren't compassionate, thoughtful or self-denying. Edmund is the only Bertram child who has much in the way of principles, and they must have been innate to him.
The main events of the book begin when the Crawfords come into the area. Mr Henry Crawford is a very vain man, who thoughtlessly enjoys making young ladies fall in love with him, and he succeeds with both Maria (who is engaged to an empty-headed man of fortune, Mr Rushworth) and Julia Bertram. Henry's sister Miss Mary Crawford, is attractive and charming, but neither of them necessarily have good principles either.
This book took a while to get into, as most of the characters are pretty unlikeable. Fanny herself, although a good person, is so timid and shy that it takes a while to like her rather than merely feel sympathy for her. For a modern reader some of the things which I presume would have been obvious to a contemporary reader weren't immediately understandable. For example, in Sir Thomas's absence to visit his plantation in Antigua a decision is made to put together a play and both Fanny and Edmund are vehemently opposed to this scheme as being improper. For a modern reader it's hard to understand why this would be the case - the play they choose is obviously inappropriate, but it seems as though the principle of putting any play on is improper. Another thing that doesn't necessarily translate to a modern reader is Fanny's distrust of the Crawfords. In many ways they are quite likeable, even though he is quite rakish and his sister sees no problem with this. I can understand why Fanny didn't like them but I DID like them.
Fanny herself I grew to like, but she is not as easy to like as other Austen heroines. She is a good person, and very unloved, and put upon. She is quite intolerant of weakness of character in others, although she is careful not to let this show inappropriately. She is quite a clear-sighted and shrewd judge of character but she is quite unforgiving in her judgements. I was beginning to despair in her, but she shows a bit of growth in her tolerance levels when she gets to know her sister and realises how principled she is despite the environment that she has grown up in.
A strong theme in this book, and one which gave me a lot of food for thought, is nature v nurture. How the Bertram siblings turned out with an indolent mother, a harsh father, and brought up mostly by an interfering old busybody aunt who spoilt them and encouraged them to think well of themselves and what they were due and denied them nothing. How the Crawford siblings turned out, brought up in a home with a very unhappy marriage, clear 'sides' and no principles. How alike in nature Mrs Price and her sister Lady Bertram are, and how differently they now are due to the big difference in their financial situations. A visit to her mother's home in Portsmouth (where Fanny is even more unloved than in Mansfield Park) teaches Fanny a lot and she realises how much being at Mansfield Park has shaped her character. A crisis calls her 'home' to Mansfield Park - finally Fanny is appreciated more truly there, and her family there have also begun to know themselves and each other more truly too.
Once I got into this book I really enjoyed it. I won't leave it so long until the next re-read! I'd like to find a good DVD adaptation of it too; I've seen a couple which I wasn't that impressed with, but I don't suppose that this is the easiest book to translate to the screen.
on 14 April 2016
Fanny Price is no Lizzie Bennett or Emma Woodhouse, lacking the playful sparkle of that dazzling pair, but that is the whole point. It is she who is to restore the harmony of the eponymous house with her quiet and unassailable integrity (like Christian's in The Pilgrim's Progress), and JA ensures she does not read a single word of the play rehearsed under the seductive, sinful energies of the Crawfords ("resting fatigues me," exclaims Mary at one point), being prevented from doing so at the last moment by the fortuitous return of Sir Thomas. Look, we all know the story but this marvellous book abounds in engrossing subtexts and delicious characters whose own words betray their real natures better than any authorial description. Mr Rushworth's "I think we are a great deal better employed, sitting comfortably here among ourselves, and doing nothing" is a minor masterpiece of irony, for example, and Mary Crawford announcing "It is every body's duty to do as well for themselves as they can" is a clear manifesto for her policy in life. Add the gloriously dim Lady Bertram and stupendously obnoxious Mrs Norris, one of the most irritating characters in literature, to the mix, along with plenty of others, and yet again you have to hand it to JA - surely our best ever novelist - that she has pulled off another winner.
on 23 July 2000
Whilst the least obviously enjoyable of Jane Austen's novels, Mansfield Park is without doubt a superb book, being a dense and interesting tale, well told. Whilst perhaps not as sparkling as Pride and Prejudice for example, Mansfield Park has its fair share of excellent characters, superbly crafted by Austen. Her wit remains as strong as ever, and the satire of Mansfield Park is of the highest order; being both savage and biting. If you are willing to give this book a chance, and read beyond the apparent initial dryness, you are in for a great treat. I cannot reccomend this novel enough.
on 31 March 2013
I purchased the kindle version and thought it was absolutely fine in terms of formatting and overall useability. The story is an absolute classic. If you haven't read it, you should!