(part 2 of a series- you can read part 1 Here.)
Mansfield Park is Pride and Prejudice inside out and backwards.
The first quarter of the book, I debated if I would keep reading. Fanny was so very obliging, so physically and willfully weak!
Around midway through the novel, I finally got what Austen was (perhaps) doing– of course we love our Mariannes and Elizabeths, who can speak their minds, who are strong and heroic and everything we want to be. But what if a novel has a main character who is NOT that? Who is perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, more like how we are and not how we wish we were?
I think Fanny’s greatest strength in the novel is her sense of propriety, her moral compass, almost to the point of snobbery (again, I was struggling to like her most of the novel). One aspect of this to ponder is that she mostly got this sense of propriety from being half-raised by Edmund, who impressed his ideals on her and was the only one to take any real attention and care for her as she was growing up at Mansfield. Of course she worships him and agrees with everything he says!
In the novel though, we see that she has not just obliged him, but has internalized his religious views to the point of being actually more pious than he is–he is willing to bend things a bit to justify being in love with Mary Crawford, while Fanny would have only married Henry Crawford if Edmund was already married.
I guess where I started to actually begin to like Fanny was when I saw her be a little bit less perfect–her complete jealousy of Mary Crawford. Edmund was prejudiced to like Mary and think she was as “good” as Fanny, who was prejudiced to like Edmund because he was the only living soul who cared about her growing up.
Besides the characters being a little difficult to warm up to, I think this novel spends too much time with the Play (the horrifically morally evil acting! Perhaps culturally this would have been more shocking than it is to a modern reader?), and why, oh why, did Austen rob us of the final scene of Edmund and Fanny getting together? It happens, but “off camera.” Mean, Jane, just mean.
This has always been my least favorite of Austen’s novels–as I continue to read through her work, let’s see if it keeps that distinction!