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Mansfield Park: A Tolerable Comfort

As some of you might know, silburygirl is a serious Austen scholar; she's doing a paper on Mansfield Park and urged me to reread it when I told her it was the one Austen novel I loathed and gave me instructions on what to look for. I did and posted a review on LibraryThing and Goodreads. Sil urged me to post the review on LJ, because she wants to see what reaction it might get (I suspect none, but what the hell, a lot of Harry Potter fans for some reason are Austen fans so who knows?) Anyway, she's eager to discuss the novel and curious about casual readers' reactions on it, so at her command, below is my review of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park in an attempt to spark discussion.

Incidentally, JK Rowling must be a fan of this novel. I had missed the Mrs Norris reference when I read the Harry Potter novels; there's no missing now on reread the mention of the children of the Bertram household learning "of the Roman emperors as low as Severus."



Review of Mansfield Park: A Tolerable Comfort

Jane Austen is one of my top favorite authors, and when it came time to rate her novels on Goodreads and LibraryThing, I gave her Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Persuasion five stars, the highest possible. When it came time, however, to rate Mansfield Park, the novel Austen herself most esteemed among her own, I rated it only one star to reflect my remembered loathing for it. Looking at others’ reviews on LibraryThing and Goodreads, I can see I was not alone in my disdain. The introduction to the annotated Norton Critical Edition called Mansfield Park Austen’s “most controversial novel” and her darkest and “most ambitious and disturbing.”

In a lot of ways, I think Mansfield Park is an outlier among Austen’s mature novels and that might be why even fans of her are thrown by it. Austen’s novels are a lot more than romances, but they are romances, and I’ll admit that’s a great deal of the appeal for me. I love her other heroines, which I can usually identify with and admire: Catherine Morland the tomboy and bookworm, sensible Elinor Dashwood, her passionate sister Marianne, witty Elizabeth Bennet, dignified Anne Elliot. Even Emma Woodhouse who might not seem likable at first won me over by the end of the novel with her name. I think because Emma does learn and grow, is humbled--not unlike the way Darcy is humbled--in seeing her flaws through the eyes of the person she most esteems.

And the other Austen heroes are easy for a reader to fall in love with: Henry Tilney with his playfulness, Edward Ferrars with his shy diffidence, Colonel Christopher Brandon with his passionate devotion, proud but principled Fitzwilliam Darcy, the compassionate George Knightly and Captain Frederick Wentworth who wrote among the most melting love letter in literature.

Not only do Austen's characters usually attach you in their own right, you usually end her novels feeling that her couples have found the best possible “partner in life” in each other and have grown because of each other. And the other novels have a charm and lightness and a tone of amused fondness at the foibles of mankind.

But then there’s Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park.

I remembered Fanny as a prig and utterly unlikable. I have a close friend who is an Austen scholar who is writing her doctoral thesis in literature on Mansfield Park. She urged me to give the novel another chance, and to look for several things: Sir Thomas Bertram’s disturbing musings on child rearing, Fanny’s bitterness and the reasons for it, and to pay particular attention to the last chapter and how deliberately crafted is the sense of dissatisfaction.

Doing so I embarked on another read of Mansfield Park, and here below is my reaction (and SPOILERS aplenty). Without the expectation of finding in it a satisfying love story, I found doing so the novel did rise in my estimation. I don’t know I can say I like Fanny any more, but I do feel more sympathy for her situation and actually no longer consider her a “prig.” A prig is not just someone with an "exaggerated conformity or propriety," but someone smug in it--and Fanny is too diffident, too shy, unhappy and bitter to be counted smug. Nor is she a goodie-two-shoes. There’s a passage early on that captures her personality and situation well. She has had harsh treatment from her uncle Sir Thomas, who is soon to be leaving for the West Indies, that causes her to cry "bitterly." Sir Thomas’ daughters don’t feel any fondness for him and (correctly) assume Fanny doesn’t either, and "when her uncle was gone...her cousins, on seeing her with red eyes, set her down as a hypocrite." Fanny by the way, is all the more miserable because she believes she should care about Sir Thomas but is well aware she doesn't. Fanny is no hypocrite or flatterer, but there's often a wide streak of bitterness and jealousy in her private reflections; she’s the poor relation treated as an unpaid servant, often treated with negligence and many attempts to put her in her place--a low place. Often such swipes coming from the aunt, Mrs Norris, who urged the Bertrams to foster their niece at Mansfield Park.

It’s because of that treatment that her cousin Edmund makes so strong an impression on her. He’s the only one who treats her with any consideration or kindness. Despite all that, I heartily disliked Edmund for pretty much the whole of the book. He is a prig. Too often I felt that he and Fanny both cared more about propriety and appearances rather than principles based on kindness or integrity, and that propensity was all too much to the fore when early on he and Fanny dissected Miss Mary Crawford and censured her for not being prim and proper in criticizing her uncle for abuse of her aunt. (Though I admit it is hard to imagine say even the lively Elizabeth Bennet making that joke about Admirals' “Vices and Rears.”) But then later in dealing with Miss Crawford, once Edmund falls in love, he becomes a hypocrite as well--trimming and tailoring his principles to please her.

As to Miss Crawford, until the last chapters, she was my favorite character in the book; She's as witty as the sparkling Elizabeth Bennet, and she's no Caroline Bingley or Lucy Steele; there’s no true malice in Mary Crawford and more than one incident that suggests a true disinterested kindness, and I thought for much of the book that Fanny was blinded by jealousy in how she interpreted Miss Crawford’s actions (and possibly Fanny simply just missed Mary's playful if scandalous and tasteless humor in say a certain letter.) I find Mary Crawford one of the most complex and problematical characters in any Austen novel, and I don't think dismissing her as shallow and unprincipled really does justice to her.

By the end I did come around more to Fanny’s way of thinking of the Crawfords, but keeping in mind what my friend said about that well-crafted sense of dissatisfaction in the last chapter... As I said, the heroes and heroines of Austen’s other mature novels tend to learn and grow through their experiences of love with each often providing a balance to the other. I don’t get any sense of that growth in Fanny and there is something in her relationship with Edmund that smacks too much of Pygmalion for my liking, that is too incestuous beyond their being cousins. Part of the attraction between both is that “her mind in so great a degree [was] formed by his care.” Through much of the book Edmund is correcting and instructing Fanny, and it struck me very unlike say the way Mr Knightly treats Emma. Partly I suppose because I agreed more with Knightly's criticisms of Emma, but also because Emma was capable of disagreeing and pushing back, while Fanny constantly frustrated me with her meekness for so much of the book.

Moreover, Austen explicitly states that Henry Crawford and Fanny could have been happy together--that this was a woman he had “passionately and rationally loved” and there’s more than a hint that Edmund and Mary might have been happy as well. Happy if events were different? Or their characters? Probably the second, but Mansfield Park leaves me wondering about that in a way her other novels certainly didn’t. Indeed, much space is given to what-might-have-been paired differently, and short shrift to Edmund and Fanny's courtship. Finally, I’d also say I find something disturbing in the way in the end Fanny’s sister Susan takes her place, becoming the “stationary niece” while Fanny moves to Mrs Norris' place. Austen begins that last chapter saying she intended now to “restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to a tolerable comfort.” A tolerable comfort makes for a rather uncomfortable note when I contrast it with Austen’s other novels.

If I can’t quite put Mansfield Park in the same beloved place as her other mature novels and it's still my least favorite, I did finish respecting it on reread, and raising its rating to four stars. Certainly the secondary characters like Mrs Norris, Lady Bertram, Mr Yates, Maria Bertram and Mr Rushworth can be listed along with characters such as Lucy Steele or Mr Collins or Lady Catherine de Bourgh as memorable and indelible creations. And of all her novels, arguably Mansfield Park provides the most food for thought on such subjects as propriety and principle, the enduring damages of childhood and just what in a life partner can help us grow and flourish.

Since the copyright has long expired, you can find legitimate free etexts of Mansfield Park online, including here. But if you're going to buy a bound paper copy, I highly recommend the Norton Critical Edition--the critical essays in the back are worth the price alone, particularly those by Lionel Trilling, Nina Auerbach and Joseph Lew.

The 1999 feature film version directed by Rozema tried to make Fanny appealing by injecting a lot of Jane Austen's own personality into the heroine--it doesn't suit Fanny Price and makes a travesty of her character and the novel.



In other fan(of) news, I got pushed into watching Battlestar Galactica and am now an avid fan, though I doubt it'll ever inspire fanfic from me. Not that anything does these days *sigh*

In terms of reading fanfic btw, I've never been interested in Austen fandom, or the many pastiches professionally written--because they just in my opinion can't come up to the originals, and I didn't in other novels feel this need for course correction. Well with Mansfield Park I do rather have that itch and wouldn't mind reading fiction based in it, whether amateur or professional. If I weren't so terrified of trying to hit anything like an Austenesque style, I might even have given writing a MP fanfic a try. Which does say something about how this novel frustrates me still--but also how it still has me thinking.

Comments

( 57 comments — Leave a comment )
silburygirl
Feb. 9th, 2011 08:34 am (UTC)
Serious Austen scholar? Pfft. Aspiring, perhaps, if we're feeling generous. (Given the current state of my thesis... we aren't. *sobs and tears out hair*)

Considering I'm writing a thesis on this novel, I could ramble on forever and ever in response to this. I will try to be succinct, though!

For me, the most unsettling part of the last chapter (and the entire novel, really) are Sir Thomas's musings about child-rearing, and his sense that he deserves the comfort that Fanny brings him. Given that most of the book is devoted to Fanny's unhappiness, it seems too dismissive to be sanctioned by the narrator.

You mentioned the issue of slavery at one point... I can direct you to some decent articles on the subject, if you like. There's a lot (and a lot of it is useless, which led to me spending a lot of last summer experiencing serious RAGE at the lack of critical ingenuity in the world), but the obvious place to start is Said's chapter on MP in Culture and Imperialism, which is a poorly argued but nevertheless necessary piece of writing. For a really thorough exploration of cultural (especially literary) attitudes towards slavery and the slave-trade during Austen's lifetime, there is a books called Jane Austen in the Context of Abolition: "A Fling at the Slave-Trade" by Gabrielle D.V. White. Ooh, and Stewart's Domestic Realities and Imperial Fictions. Just if you're interested of course.

/geek-out
harmony_bites
Feb. 9th, 2011 08:44 am (UTC)
Serious Austen scholar? Pfft. Aspiring, perhaps, if we're feeling generous. (Given the current state of my thesis... we aren't. *sobs and tears out hair*)

Well, I don't know that we can call you a pro yet (well have to wait to you publish! And teach classes on it!) but compared to those of us who gush about Colin Firth in a wet shirt?

For me, the most unsettling part of the last chapter (and the entire novel, really) are Sir Thomas's musings about child-rearing, and his sense that he deserves the comfort that Fanny brings him.

Huh. I'll have to reread that part then, that aspect went past me. What I got out of it was more the regret over how he reared his own daughters, in particular how being harsh with them caused him to lose their confidence. But then maybe that was more Austen's take? It can be hard at time separating a character's musings from the narrators. Which is a problem with Fanny a lot I think. First time I thought we were supposed to dislike Mary Crawford--full stop. Now I'm not so sure, because I was more aware this time around of Fanny's jealousy and bitterness.

You mentioned the issue of slavery at one point... I can direct you to some decent articles on the subject, if you like.

There's only one bare mention of the slave trade in the book, and no real evidence Sir Thomas was involved or had slaves, even if he did own land in the West Indies. They make him a slave owner and make it a major trope in the film version btw--which I hated. The film. I'm not sure if what they did might not have worked better if they hadn't warped Fanny's character all beyond recognition.

I might look for those articles. Maybe. I'm curiously left interested in the end in MP in a way I haven't been with other Austen novels despite this still remaining my least favorite.


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imhilien
Feb. 9th, 2011 09:02 am (UTC)
Mansfield Park isn't one of my favourite Austen books as Fanny reminds me of a wet blanket. Meh.

However, I have found some fanfiction that makes me think of the story in a kinder light in the end...


A Stitch in Time : An alternate ending to the story, as seen through Edmund’s eyes.
http://archiveofourown.org/collections/yuletide2010/works/141634

Not What Was Expected
A similar alternate ending, as seen through Fanny’s eyes.
http://archiveofourown.org/collections/yuletide2010/works/140972

Happy reading. :)
harmony_bites
Feb. 9th, 2011 09:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for the links! I enjoyed both (both are very short) and particularly liked the first and this picture of Fanny as Mrs Crawford:

The first time Edmund sees the new Mrs Henry Crawford, it comes as quite a shock. Her hair has been cut and fashionably dressed and her clothes are quietly expensive and in a style and colour that suit her. There’s colour in her cheeks and her eyes are bright and active. The really alarming thing is that now he’s seen her like this he can’t remember how she used to look: the old Fanny fades like a ghost, merging with the fall of a curtain or the pattern of the wallpaper.

When I said MP tempts me to fanfic, I mean things like this--ones that flesh out the might-have-beens. Because I do get what you mean about Fanny--she does seem so passive and inert. Second time around I was more aware though of how her circumstances constrain her so much--and silburygirl pointed me to her bitterness--and seeing it on reread it made her more interesting. She's not this too good to be true sweet thing. But I admit there were times I wanted to shake her. Allow a compliment! Try actually letting people know your thoughts! Stop hiding in a corner! *sheesh*

But even in MP, there is still a satiric barb and sting--and I did enjoy Mary Crawford quite a bit. Which is why I'd prefer to think, unlike in the second story you pointed me too, that Mary and Edmund might have wound up well--and Edmund the better for it. That maybe she might have made him loosen up a bit as well as fired him with some ambition.
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hereticalvision
Feb. 9th, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
MP is my least favourite also - though it's better written than Northanger Abbey it doesn't have the same charm IMO. I must thank you for posting this though - I read the fics and am now working my way through the gender-swap versions of P&P with interest :)
harmony_bites
Feb. 9th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, MP does seem to miss the lightness and charm of the other books--but then it's also arguably the darkest. I missed that on first read, but Silburygirl telling me to look for it, it did make the book--and Fanny--more interesting to me.

Silburygirl also thinks that there's reason especially in that last chapter to think Austen deliberately was trying to create a sense of dissatisfaction in the reader--with Fanny's Mrs Norris-like satisfaction in others' sorrow and it making her useful, in giving short shrift to Fanny and Edmund's courtship, with Sir Thomas'self-satisfaction, and with the extended section bring to mind the what-if of Fanny and Crawford.

Well, of course a lack of satisfaction is exactly what is grist for the fanfic mill! I'm happy your enjoying the fanfic!
drmm
Feb. 9th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Humm. Mansfield Park has never been one of my favorite Austen novels (although I like it more than I do Northanger Abbey). However, I have always felt that it was her best work in terms of social criticism. That is why, when I read it for a lit class in college, I realized that I no longer disliked Fanny the way I once did. Why? I eventually decided that the reason why Fanny had no personality was a way for Austen to expose the flaws and hypocrisy of other characters in the novel. If Fanny had been more like other Austen heroines, we might have seen the flaws but they wouldn't have been as obvious or they would have been more comedic in nature (just look at Mr. Collins). (I got a really great grade on the paper I wrote with this thesis).

You just have to go into Mansfield Park with a different mindset. It's not a romance -- it's a critique and if you do, it's much easier to appreciate. That doesn't mean you're ever going to enjoy it as much (because I still love other Austen novels more) but it does make it easier to read.
harmony_bites
Feb. 9th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Why? I eventually decided that the reason why Fanny had no personality was a way for Austen to expose the flaws and hypocrisy of other characters in the novel.

I think she does have a personality though--but it's an unlikable one--but I agree with you its in the service of social criticism. On reread I came to see Fanny as a damaged character. Edmund is the only one who cares about her, so she models herself after him, and he obviously finds pride in that, in shaping her. And she has the horror of being noticed Mary Crawford notices, because all the attention she gets is negative attention. She's constantly told she doesn't matter, that she's inferior, and so she wants to disappear. And when Henry Crawford continues to pursue her, expecting her to be flattered by the challenge, the narrator notes that given the constant opposition Fanny deals with, she finds no charm in challenge. IOWs, yes, she's passive, meek, quiet--because the social structure she's been reared in shapes her that way.

You just have to go into Mansfield Park with a different mindset. It's not a romance -- it's a critique and if you do, it's much easier to appreciate.

That's what I found. It didn't fit my expectations from the other books, and on first read it suffered for that. On this read going in expecting more something like what you might get from George Eliot or Dickens that what I expect from Austen, I found much more to enjoy and admire in the novel.

That doesn't mean you're ever going to enjoy it as much (because I still love other Austen novels more) but it does make it easier to read.

It does. Enormously. You just can't go into Mansfield Park expecting Pride and Prejudice or Emma--you'll be disappointed.
e_danae
Feb. 9th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
I like Mansfield Park a lot, and your review makes me think why exactly. One reason might be that the book is so very different from the others - which only proves that Austen is a great author, able to write in many different ways. Fanny is a real challenge as a heroine, actually she is almost an anti-heroine material. But Austen takes her as she is, member of a disfunctional family, very introverted, last and lost in her new home, and follows her to the end in a manner which is actually quite accurate in a psychological way - no big changes, no big revelations, just a slow day-by-day growth within believable limits. There is also a strong social theme in the book, hardly seen in any other (perhaps in Persuasion in Mrs. Smith character and fate?). There is no sugar-coating in the scenes from Fanny's old home in Portsmouth. I agree that anyone expecting the second P&P must be disappointed. But the book itself is a complex piece of art. Maybe if the author was unknown and therefore no ground for comparison, readers would like it better ... or hate it all the same ;)
harmony_bites
Feb. 10th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC)
It's true--when you think about it, that actually the fact that MP is so different is a sign of Austen's strength. I think though, that it's so very different than the others in tone you think, what the hell? Kingsley Amis, the acclaimed British author and critic asked of Mansfield Park "Where is Jane Austen?" and calls Fanny "a monster of complacency and pride who, under a cloak of cringing self-abasement, dominates and gives meaning to the novel." Fanny is so different from the usual Austen heroine, and the novel so different in tone, you feel as if you're reading an entirely different author, and if you're not prepared for it... You might be right, if we didn't know it as an Austen novel, maybe we'd like it better?

But you know, of all her novels, it's the one that most made me think and I find I could discuss endlessly. Much more than say my favorite Persuasion where you'd have to get me to stop sighing over Captain Wentworth's letter first!
kellychambliss
Feb. 10th, 2011 02:54 am (UTC)
Yay, Jane Austen! I'm in the middle of teaching a JA seminar this semester, and we'll be beginning MP soon. It's definitely different in tone from PP and Emma and the others, but I still like it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Mary Crawford. But Fanny does have spirit, for all her submissiveness -- to stand up against them all and refuse to marry Henry? That takes guts. I tend to think that Austen is a darker novelist than she's usually considered, and there's a savagery about MP that appeals to me, in a twisted sort of way.

In many ways, I think JA rewrites her stories in different novels, testing out alternative plot resolutions. PP, to my mind, is SS with the structural flaws fixed, and MP, I've always thought, is what PP might have been if Mr. Wickham could not have been prevailed upon to marry Lydia. It's as if JA said to herself, "all right, I've given Lydia a comic resolution, but what if I wrote a story in which the sexual transgressor does NOT get 'rescued'?" We'd end up with poor Julia, imprisoned in her own private Azkaban with her own Dementor guard. (And I did read somewhere that JKR said that she definitely named Filch's cat after Austen's Mrs. Norris). Anyway, the end of MP is devastating, in its way.

We see that savagery in other places, too -- Mr Collins, I think, is quite monstrous, hilarious though he is.

I enjoy giving radically alternative readings to my students -- like insisting to them that Lydia Bennet is really a heroine, a modern woman who likes sex and is unapologetic about it and refuses to learn a "lesson" in submission. Half the time I'm just playing devil's advocate, but JA really does lend herself to a variety of readings. (One of my favorite essays is Eve K. Sedgwick's, where she challenges those interpretations of JA that argue that books like PP, Emma, and NA are all about "teaching girls lessons." I can't recall its title now, but even if you don't buy all her arguments, she makes you really rethink the traditional ways of reading Austen.)

Well, I could go on (and on and on), but I need to go prepare my next Austen class /g/ (on Marxist interpretations).
harmony_bites
Feb. 10th, 2011 05:00 am (UTC)
a monster of complacency and pride who, under a cloak of cringing self-abasement, dominates and gives meaning to the novel

She really popped out at me on second read. I confess I rather love her, and am still in my mind making excuses defending her behavior. Thinking to myself, that in the letter when she talks about wouldn't it be great if Tom died making Edmund a Sir, she's just making one of her at times shocking and tasteless jokes. And as for her reaction about Maria and Edmund--well my first reaction too wasn't so much, how wicked, but how stupid. I guess I forgive Henry more easily than Wickham or Willoughby because he didn't after attempt to seduce an innocent. In Wickham's case trying to get Georgiana's fortune and then intending with Lydia at first not to marry her at all to her ruin. In Willoughby's case, getting that girl pregnant and abandoning her.

In fact, the whole elopement makes no sense to me. An affair yes, that would have been in character. But the two of them off together in open adultery had so very much to lose, that I rather feel Austen cheated, so another reason to forgive Mary her just wanting to try to mend things. And is "covering things up" all so very different than what Darcy and the Bennets did for Lydia?

So there, you're right, Austen can lend herself to a greater variety of readings than I thought--but I think more in MP than any other work. I found Kingsley Amis' quotes about the book recently and had to laugh out loud at his subversive reading of Fanny's character, because it's very much how she hit me--a monster of complacency under a cloak of cringing self-abasement. Although on second read, especially with silburygirl pointing me to it, I do see it more as amour than cloak and do feel sorry for her. With that family, it's not as if she could have wound up otherwise.

It's as if JA said to herself, "all right, I've given Lydia a comic resolution, but what if I wrote a story in which the sexual transgressor does NOT get 'rescued'?" We'd end up with poor Julia, imprisoned in her own private Azkaban with her own Dementor guard.

*shudders* Yes, you're right, that ending is devastating. I didn't like Maria--but I can't help feel NO ONE deserves her fate--at least not for adultery and for a lifetime.

We see that savagery in other places, too -- Mr Collins, I think, is quite monstrous, hilarious though he is.

Very true. Poor Charlotte!

One of my favorite essays is Eve K. Sedgwick's, where she challenges those interpretations of JA that argue that books like PP, Emma, and NA are all about "teaching girls lessons."

Sil says we don't get the full context because we don't know the literature of the time, but she thinks JA was deliberately working against that tradition in MP--against the "conduct book" and that aspects of that last chapter are suggestive--that Austen was deliberately trying to craft a sense of dissatisfaction and we're NOT supposed to like Fanny or Edmund

Well, I could go on (and on and on), but I need to go prepare my next Austen class /g/ (on Marxist interpretations).

I'm only sorry I can't see you teach MP!
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ctrent29
Feb. 11th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
If I must be honest, my only true reason for my dislike of Fanny Price is that she never really developed as a character. I would have tolerated this in a supporting character, but I simply couldn't in a main character. How can a character like Fanny (or Edmund, for that matter) develop, when she is incapable of acknowledging her own flaws?
harmony_bites
Feb. 11th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
That is a great deal of what stands out to me too. (Although I guess begs the question if what we see as flaws Austen would).

But so many of Austen's heroes and heroines grow in the course of their books: Lizzie, Darcy, Emma especially. It's what to me marks out the Austen books as more than just romances.

Fanny does stand out as in stasis. Sickly, inactive, marries close kin who formed her mind and her happy ending comes more from digging in than anything.
jill_rg
Mar. 12th, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you for agreeing with me and C.S. Lewis that it's very inaccurate to call Fanny a prig.

A prig is not just someone with an "exaggerated conformity or propriety," but someone smug in it.

You just described Anne Elliot, who confidently lectures Col. Benwick on the proper way to move on from a lost relationship, secretly knowing she hasn't followed her own advice, and boasts to Wentworth of how perfectly she acted eight years ago, despite how miserable it made them, going as fara s saying being engaged to him would have made her more miserable! Pleae tell me you hate her, too.

Fanny attaches me personally in the way you say most Austen heroines do because Fanny is my mother, in her emotionally abusive background and the psychological results -- zero self-esteem, zero expectation of ever having her needs or wants met, and crippling social anxiety. Light and bright and sparkling romantic comedy is fun and satisfying, but a painful, sympathetic past is good for cathartic reactions as well. Being less lively and confident than Elizabeth Bennet, bearing the realistic psychological scars of abuse as she does, actually makes Fanny the strongest of Austen's heroines, if the quietest and most subdued. Her story is supposed to look painful and uncomfortable in the sense of exposing how horrible such an environment is to grow up in and lamenting its results on her personality, but I don't see why readers insist on blaming the victim. I am cursed with extremely strong empathy, and I believe people would hate Fanny less if they would empathize with her and her situation more.

Too often I felt that he and Fanny both cared more about propriety and appearances rather than principles based on kindness or integrity.

Yet, in his final conversation with Mary Crawford, Mary disgusts him by criticizing her brother and Maria not for having an affair but for getting caught, focusing entirely on appearances and showing no principles.

But then later in dealing with Miss Crawford, once Edmund falls in love, he becomes a hypocrite as well--trimming and tailoring his principles to please her.

But wouldn't it have been more priggish to look down on her with a smug sense of moral superiority and proudly judge her? Denying his love for her to himself would have been hypocritical, but he genuinely fell in love with her, and wasn't even proud enough to automatically assume she must love him and consider him her first priority.

there’s no true malice in Mary Crawford
Except for how she helps her brother to emotionally seduce Fanny, knowing in the beginning that he has no serious intentions other than deliberately breaking her heart for sport. And how wishes Tom Bertram would die to make Edmund rich enough for her. Even if you think she was being sarcastic, A) it's a highly inappropriate subject to joke about, and B) she goes into too much detail to be sarcastic.

I don't think dismissing her as shallow and unprincipled really does justice to her.

She has mroe qualities than those two, but she definitely has those two, and they undo all ehr good qualities. The novel condemns her for being shallow and unprincipled, not for being lively and witty. Persuasion's treatment of Louisa Musgrove, on the other hand...

Moreover, Austen explicitly states that Henry Crawford and Fanny could have been happy together
So aren't you mad at Henry for ruining that by needing to subdue Maria again? Why shouldn't henry have to take responsibiltiy for his actions? He, not the situation, ruined the chances for such an ending.

“restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to a tolerable comfort.”

That line is part of the most ironic statement in all of Austen; it follows "Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery" in her novel that focuses the most on guilt and misery!

Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel.
albathetross
Apr. 21st, 2011 04:53 pm (UTC)
Agreed with almost all of the above.

I'm a Mansfield Park fan, and one of the rare readers who likes Fanny -- maybe because her timidity and loneliness remind me of myself as a teen. And, oh, the huge crush on Edmund that she can't bear for anyone else to notice. She may not be an *aspirational* heroine, but she's certainly one with whom I can identify and sympathize in many of her trials -- and even root for over Mary.

And despite all of what some people see as her negative traits, Fanny does show character growth and backbone, in standing up for her own happiness against the wishes of everyone she cares for and usually defers to; in trusting her own judgement; in controlling all the passions that the others give in to so freely (thereby hurting one another and eventually themselves). That she holds to her stance against Sir Thomas' and even Edmund's persuasion, and despite her deeply subordinate position and lack of self-esteem demonstrates to me an impressive (although under most circumstances deeply hidden) strength of character.

I do agree that the ending is a little squicky and incestuous in more than the simple fact that Fanny and Edmund are first cousins. On the other hand, it's the only way for Fanny to be happy. And I want her to be happy.

And I like to pretend that Susan's sentence to the service of Lady Bertram is not a permanent one. ;-)
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jill_rg
Mar. 12th, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC)
Sorry, the library was about to log me off, so I had to hurry and log back in before I got the chance to thank you. I'm so glad someone else appreciates Mansfield Park. You really lifted my spirits up after the way it was snubbed at the Jane Austen Festival I attended today. I consider it one of the two most cruelly underrated novels in history, along with Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Both books brutally destroy fundamental romantic fantasies, which I think is the reason (subconsicous, at least) people dislike them so much. A Fanny/Henry and Mary/Edmund ending would have been more romantic but completely unrealistic.
vamoaire
Apr. 13th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
Sorry for my bad english. Thank you so much for your good post. Your post helped me in my college assignment, If you can provide me more details please email me.

gioiamia
May. 29th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
Holy crap, how did I never reply over here? I was sure I had.

I had MEANT to stop by and make sure you had this link to the JAFF (Jane Austen Fanfiction) Index: http://www.jaffindex.com.

I love that site. I wish every fandom had something that searchable, however I'm sure it's only a workable endeavor because their fandom is so small.

Anyway, I'll have to get up the nerve to attempt MP again some time, as I've never really cared for that book, and thus haven't read the fanfiction. So although I can't give you any recs for MP fics (which was also what I *though* I posted here months ago), that's a fantastic resource in finding good ones.

Now, here's an icon of your favorite Mr. Darcy by way of apology for my wretchedly late reply.
harmony_bites
May. 29th, 2011 09:41 am (UTC)
Hee. Better late than never!

I can't say rereading MP made it a favorite on the order of the other books. But it raised it from a book I hated to one I admired--well, that, and Silburygirl telling me what to look for that allowed me to look at the book with new eyes.

Mind you, I don't like Fanny the way I do the other heroines. I'd love to have Catherine ... Elinor ... Marianne ... Elizabeth ... Emma Watson (and even Emma Woodville) ... Anne and/or Charlotte over for tea. I think they'd all make good friends. Fanny I'd still back away slowly from. But I have a lot more sympathy for her and for the way she turned out second time around.

I've never really cared for that book, and thus haven't read the fanfiction.

In a way that makes it more appealing to me than say P&P for fanfiction. Fanfic imo is at its best in the road not travelled, in being somewhat critical and subversive of its author. I'm pretty happy to leave the Darcy's where we left them (And trying Berdoll, really, really left me wanting them left alone). The Crawfords and the Bertrams otoh...
ctrent29
Jul. 21st, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
I gone over "MANSFIELD PARK" several times. I still dislike Fanny and Edmund. No matter how many times I have read the novel, I am still repelled by their hypocrisy.
rpowell
Aug. 1st, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
In a lot of ways, I think Mansfield Park is an outlier among Austen’s mature novels and that might be why even fans of her are thrown by it.

This comments seems like an attempt to criticize readers for not liking "MANSFIELD PARK". You accuse them of being incapable of appreciating a "mature novel" (in your words) because . . . what? Because they are not mature? Is that what you are saying? Has it ever occurred to that some readers who are capable of enjoying and appreciating a "mature novel" simply dislike "MANSFIELD PARK" because they don't consider it . . . "mature"?



Yet, in his final conversation with Mary Crawford, Mary disgusts him by criticizing her brother and Maria not for having an affair but for getting caught, focusing entirely on appearances and showing no principles.


This only strikes me as another example of Edmund's hypocrisy. He criticizes Mary for refusing to be outraged over Henry and Maria's behavior. Yet, he also criticizes Mary for failing to show any respect to her Royal Navy uncle - the same uncle who had no problem in exposing Mary to his mistress on a daily basis. Edmund was aware of this. He even mentioned this to Fanny. Yet, both remained fixed in their criticism of Mary. Mary's willingness to show respect toward a patriarchal figure seemed more important to them than the discomforts and embarrassments she had endured in the company of her uncle and his mistress.


elidyce
Oct. 3rd, 2011 04:20 am (UTC)
Ooh, Mansfield Park!

I admit, I always liked Fanny Price, I think for the same reasons that I adore Jane Eyre. They have a lot in common.

No, really, they do!

True, Jane is a tenacious, outspoken self-advocate while Fanny is a timid, retiring submissive, but they share several important traits.

1) As a result of prolonged and vigorous trampling in childhood, they expect little from life - and get even less. Assertive Jane values the independence of working for a living, but is perfectly at ease with her low status. Though Fanny would like to be valued and loved, she also accepts her position in life and tries to make the best of it that she can, though as she's denied gainful employment that's mostly limited to acting as unpaid servant to her aunts.

2) Both are reunited, late in the novel, with biological family who fail to live up to the fantasies the little girls had of familial love. Jane is luckier, in that only St John is a real disappointment... the others do love her and appreciate her. Fanny, sent home in disgrace, has no lucky inheritance she can bestow on her family to ease their wants, and as a daughter and subordinate rather than a cousin and equal, cannot do much to influence their behaviour, though she does her best.

3) Both, and this is what I love about them, have a fiercely defended sense of their own personal and moral value. Jane walks out on Rochester, despite her love for him, because she values herself too highly to be his mistress. Fanny, despite her terror of scolding or disagreement, flatly refuses either to participate in a play or, more seriously, to marry Henry Crawford. Their hard-won self-respect and moral worth ultimately means more to them than anything else, and to keep it they go through fairly literal hell without much in the way of regret. (Fanny, being a ditherer, has a few doubts, but remains ultimately glad she respected herself enough to turn Crawford down).

If anything, I think Fanny fights harder for her self-respect. She's much less naturally assertive than Jane, and it's hammered into her for much longer that she's a worthless disappointment who should be grateful for her 'opportunities'. Even so, she clings tenaciously to her principles in the face of serious opposition - something second nature to Jane, but incredibly difficult for Fanny. As much as I love Jane, I'm just as proud of Fanny... for someone shy and insecure, standing up for yourself can be excruciating, and yet she manages it.

And Mrs Norris is one of my favourite Evil Relatives ever. She's so nasty, and so gifted at convincing herself she's not!
harmony_bites
Oct. 3rd, 2011 04:26 am (UTC)
Hmmmn. I can see the parallels now that you point them out, and you make a good case for Fanny--you do. I just can't like Fanny though, even if on second read I found I could sympathize with her. I can't see her as anyone I'd like for a friend, while with Jane Eyre or the other Austen heroines....

I do agree Mrs Norris makes a splendid villain. She's so soul-killing. And of course, on second read, I was tickled to recognize the HP reference--including one to a "Severus." (And now I have to picture poor Filch as a Jane Austen fan...)
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rpowell
Mar. 17th, 2015 05:45 pm (UTC)
I admit, I always liked Fanny Price, I think for the same reasons that I adore Jane Eyre. They have a lot in common.


And yet . . . I see the differences. I think Jane Eyre is a little more open-minded and not as inclined to harshly judge others. I think Fanny would not have disliked the overly pious Mr. Brocklehurst as much as Jane did. And I cannot see her falling in love with someone like Edward Rochester. Fanny would be more inclined to fall in love with the likes of St. John Rivers.
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