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.
Writerrea 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.