Jane Austen Read All A-long: Mansfield Park

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This is a “two-gasp” Jane Austen novel.

While reading it, I gasped twice.

Jane Austen has this way of suddenly throwing her reader for a loop with just a tiny slip of narrative so affecting it makes this reader gasp out loud. She is a master of plotting.

My gasping came during the novel’s first half.  First when young Fanny Price is forgotten by her older, richer cousin who lets the new neighbor use her horse to learn riding while Fanny waits her turn all morning, alone. A girl used to riding daily waiting by herself for the older cousin she admires to return with her horse only to realize she has been forgotten in favor of the more desirable new neighbor.  How could a reader not be moved?

The second gasp arrives with the news that Sir Thomas has unexpectedly returned home from Antigua just a few days before the cousins and their friends are to perform the not-quite-appropriate play they have been busily rehearsing thereby ruining everything.  One rushes in to the rehersal, says “Father has returned” and I sucked up all the air in the room leaving the cat in a panting heap on the floor.

However, the end of the novel, the part when everyone finally realizes whom they should really be falling in love with, was gasp free. Things in the end were rushed to their conclusion some in a couple of chapters, some in a few pages in a very un-Jane Austen like way.

I will say that Mansfield Park, while still far from my favorite Austen, was not the dreadful slog I was expecting.  It is a much more serious book than the rest. I did not find much humor here, even in the character of Mrs. Norris, the meddlesom aunt, or in the Portsmith scenes set in Fanny’s family home where one might expect it. Fanny Price is a serious girl, a virtuous girl.

She’s kind of an experiment, really. Can a truly good person, one nearly defined by her virtue, succeed?

Yes and no.

She does find a happy marriage, as all Jane Austen heroines do in the end, but she does wear on the reader, and I think she forced the author into a corner more than once. Ms. Austen gives Fanny a nearly suitable suitor in Henry Crawford. He almost wins the day, wins the hand of Fanny Price. That he runs off with a married woman feels unnatural to me, more like a narrative convience than a natural development.  Ms. Austen has to get him out of the way somehow, but this really felt like a device to me. Fanny’s marriage to Edmund also feels forced, rather it feels like an admission of what we knew would happen for nearly two hundred pages without the pleasure of seeing it develop naturally the way it did in Pride and Prejudice.

Still, a partial success is more than I was expecting to find in Mansfiled Park.

 

It’s safe to say that the others Janites and would-be Janite’s who joined in this month’s edition of the Jane Austen Read All A-long enjoyed Mansfield Park both more than I did and more than they expected.

addtext_com_MTQyNjA2NDA2MTMyWriterrea at New Century Reading has an excellent review and what sounds like another delicious recipe. She makes a very good point comparing Fanny Price to the heroines in Dickens novels.

TracyK at  Bitter Tea and Mystery enjoyed the book and has some good points to make about it. Tracy wasn’t going to read all six novels, but I think she has become a fully fledged Janite.

If you read Mansfield Park for the Jane Austen Read All A-long and have a review you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a link in a comment. I’ll add it to the above list.  Feel free to share links to old reviews, too. I’ll be happy to add them and maybe send one or two readers your way.

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12 Comments

  1. writerrea says:

    I definitely liked this more than I expected. But I felt that Henry Crawford was unstable enough to run off with a married woman that he’d been flirting so heavily with earlier, especially with Fanny out of sight and not giving him much hope.

    1. Fair points regarding Henry Crawford. I may have to reconsider. 🙂

  2. Teresa Camajani says:

    Great review! Now that I am retired I am reading more than history! Going to give this a try

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. Liz Dexter says:

    Have a review from 2014 …. https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/book-reviews-99/ I really enjoyed this one, though not sure why I said I knew it less well than her others, as Persuasion was my real mystery one!

  4. Judith says:

    Hi James,
    Considering how extremely busy your life is, I believe you are to be heartily congratulated for finishing and writing your impressions about MP in September.
    I’m only a third of the way through, yet I am determined to finish in the next couple of weeks. I had a September full of three-hour and four-hour commutes that left me senseless in the evenings and beached like a whale on the weekends with less than the brain of a dodo.
    October’s schedule will be a vacation compared to September. So I will be delighted to finish MP and write my review as soon as I can.

  5. Dale says:

    I’m a little late as usual, but I hope to finish this by tomorrow and post something this week. It’s been slow going but the more I read it the more I like it.

  6. Brona says:

    Mansfield Park is definitely a rereader. It was my least fav Austen, until i finally reread it a few years ago. My estimation of it increased significantly.

    I’ve enjoyed reading these posts even though I haven’t commented much 🙂

    1. I’m glad to hear it. It’s been a very interesting experience reading all of Jane Austen. I’m halfway through now, looking forward to two of my favorites and one I’ve never read before.

  7. Dale says:

    I finally finished it!

    https://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/mansfield-park-by-jane-austen/

  8. tracybham says:

    Sorry to be so late to comment here. You are right, I am becoming a big Jane Austen fan. I go to the bookstore and look longingly at the annotated versions and wish I could buy them all. So glad I participated in your Read All A-long and got started on these books.

    The good thing about commenting late is I saw Dale’s link to his review of Mansfield Park and enjoyed it very much.

    1. 🙂

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