Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Borders Classics
ISBN: 9781587265402

Published in 1814, Mansfield Park was Austen’s third published novel. More serious and complicated than the previous two, Mansfieldis the story of a young woman, Fanny Price, who is brought from her povertous family of 7 siblings to live with and under the care of her very wealthy aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. If young Fanny is the Mansfield heroine, then Mrs. Norris is certainly her arch nemesis, and it is this same “Mrs. Norris” that is Argus Filch’s cat’s namesake (from the Harry Potter series) .

The book begins with three grown sisters who take different paths in marriage: the eldest becomes Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park, the second marries Mr. Norris of Mansfield’s parsonage, and the third, Fanny’s mother, marries a man with little money and has 8 children in 10 years without the means to take care of them. Mrs. Norris decides that Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram and herself should take one of their youngest sister’s children off her hands, and Mrs. Norris decides it should be Mrs. Price’s eldest daughter. Of course Mrs. Norris has no intention on spending a penny on Fanny’s care, but she claims all the credit and pain for the kind rescue of her niece from skid row… and Mrs. Norris never misses an opportunity to remind Fanny where she came from and how she owes her life to the Bertrams and herself for putting forth the idea to bring her to Mansfield.

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up: how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram. I should wish to see them very good friends and would, on no account, authorise in my girls the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different…”

After her cousin Maria marries and takes her younger sister to Brighton, Fanny is the only girl left in the main at Mansfield. Having always been the shy, nervous wall-flower who never goes out, she suddenly finds herself the center of attention. She is romantically pursued by the disreputable flirt Henry Crawford. Edmund, the only person in Mansfield who has always treated with respect and love and with whom Fanny is secretly in love, is in love with Mary Crawford, Henry’s sister.
When Edmund leaves to make his living as a minister, Fanny finds herself in crisis as Henry Crawford proposes marriage. If she says yes, she betrays herself… but if she says no, she will be perceived as an ungrateful, wicked, proud and obstinate wretched girl with whom everyone will be disappointed. What can she do?

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Mansfield Park. This was my first experience with this story, having never read nor seen any movie of it. It was fantastic, and I felt the same joy and discovery I found when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I had forgotten how exquisitely Austen could put different story lines together into on main work.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like taking a walk through an expertly landscaped garden, where new and wonderful things are revealed gradually and build upon the whole, not a fast and flat snapshot.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like eating a fine meal of several courses until you nearly weep from appreciation of the culinary arts, not like a number 4 at the fast food joint.

Fanny Price is definitely not one of my favorite of Austen’s characters.  She’s too mousy, weak and put-upon.  I just wanted her to scream at them.  I wanted her to take the ice pick to Aunt Norris… but I guess that’d be a different genre.   She’s Austen’s answer to Cinderella, with a wicked aunt instead of a step-mother.  Lady Bertram is worthless as a wife, mother and person in general, doting completely on her pug.  As a mother Lady Bertram is wickedly bad; she is willing to sacrifice the happiness and future of her own children in deference to her own comfort.  It’s sickening to watch so many worthless people place themselves as superior to one of the only decent people at Mansfield.

Despite it all, horrible as it might be… I must admit that Mansfield holds one of my favorite Austen characters.  I cannot help but love Mrs. Norris as a character.  I have laughed so hard at her vexations and everytime she is foiled in her self-promoting schemes.  What’s more, Mrs. Norris is the literary twin of my grandmother, so I laugh even harder since I’ve met the woman.  Austen’s characters are my recycled relatives!

Advertisements