Mansfield Park: First Impressions

This is a tricksy novel, is it not? I am about half way through and on so many levels I am thoroughly enjoying myself. My toes are positively curling with glee every time I immerse myself back into the world of Mansfield Park; there is so much hilarity! Austen’s wit, characterisation and always perfectly timed observations on the vagaries of human nature are, as usual, superb. The cast of characters is Austen at her best; there are so many to hate, and so few to love; just as it should be. Mrs Norris is particularly brilliantly realised; a busybody with an opinion on everything and an uncanny ability to extricate herself from any financial or other inconvenience resulting from her suggestions for improvement, she is even more odious than Mrs Elton – I never thought such a thing could be possible! Lady Bertram is another stroke of genius; she loves her dog more than her children and seems to spend most of her time dozing on the sofa, and Maria and Julia Bertram are a more grown up Kitty and Lydia Bennett, bickering constantly and jealously vying for the attention of whichever single bachelors happen to come their way.

However, amidst these lively folk live Edmund and Fanny, and you’d be hard pressed to find a drearier pair. Fanny can barely walk to the bottom of the garden without needing to sit down and gets a headache from spending half an hour cutting flowers in a bit of sunshine. Please! She meekly puts up with a garret bedroom and being used as an errand girl, and is entirely dependent on Edmund to protect her; heaven forbid that she should speak a word in defence of herself! Don’t get me wrong; Fanny is a sweet girl, who appreciates nature, is kind and thoughtful, and is naturally shy and retiring. These are all fine character traits, and shouldn’t prevent her from being endearing or interesting, especially not when created by the pen of Jane Austen. I understand that she struggles to speak up for herself because she has strong feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self confidence due to her unusual upbringing; she is, after all, a dependent in someone else’s home and is made to feel like she should be constantly grateful and obliging, which isn’t an easy position to be in. However, despite being able to rationally sympathise with Fanny, emotionally I couldn’t care less about her. She is flat, cold, and dull; she has no sense of humour, no spunk, and no backbone. Anne Elliot is a similarly quiet and put upon heroine, but Austen manages to bring Anne to life in a way that she fails to do with Fanny. I think, at this stage, Fanny is just presented as far too two-dimensional to endear her to the reader. Her inner thoughts are not much exposed, and even though there is a flash of endearability in her jealousy of Mary Crawford, it’s not enough to redeem her for me. She bores me to tears.

Edmund is a rather different kettle of fish. His relationship with Fanny is very interesting, and I hadn’t picked up on many of the complexities of this before. While Edmund’s primary aim is to make Fanny feel safe and welcome in his family’s home, there is also a rather disturbing undercurrent of control. Edmund has moulded Fanny into a ‘mini-me’, using his emotional power over her to shape her thoughts, feelings and decisions until he is sure she will always be his ally. As Austen says, Edmund has ‘formed her mind’; he manipulates Fanny’s affection and trust to the point where Fanny seeks Edmund’s approval in her every decision, and is incapable of having an independent opinion that does not tie in with his. Edmund is keen to control everyone, and is always quick to dispense his opinions on others’ behaviour when he finds it lacking in comparison to his own moral standards. However, when it suits him, his standards can very quickly alter, and no one is more gifted than he at finding mitigating circumstances to explain away his sudden change of heart.

I find Edmund sly, calculating and controlling; while he can be perceptive and caring, he can also be incredibly obtuse – he totally fails to realise that Fanny worships the ground he walks on – and I wonder how much of his behaviour is for appearances’ sake. I know that Henry and Mary Crawford are supposed to be the villains of the piece, but at the moment they are my hero and heroine; they might be up to no good, but at least they do not pretend to be anything other than what they are, and they have a lot of fun in the process. Mary Crawford actually reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Bennett; lively, witty and not afraid to give her opinion, she sparkles next to the dull Fanny.

So, what exactly is Austen doing here? We have a flat heroine, a manipulative and very flawed hero, a villainess who is actually very likeable and a villain who is dashing, good fun and hasn’t technically done anything wrong (yet). I think I need to read a little further in order to come to some concrete conclusions. What I can say at this point is that Mansfield Park is a very well written and well structured novel; the dialogue sparkles, the wit is perfectly judged, the characters are intriguing, and there is plenty of plot. However, my dislike of the two major players is souring the taste a little. Austen has created a very strange scenario in which we have two characters that charm and two that offend, and by the end of the novel we are expected to be content with the two offenders becoming our happy ever after. Subverting the traditional course of the novel is a very ambitious scheme indeed; at the moment, I’m not convinced that Jane’s going to be able to pull it off. That Edmund is nothing but a snake in the grass as far as I’m concerned, and Fanny really needs to lighten up.

62 comments

  1. I finished the novel and have had a complete change of heart as it pertains to Fanny. She’s a good girl, who isn’t completely formed by Edmund, although stays steadfast in her devotion to her. Yes, the parts about her almost invalid-like state of being when it comes to minimum exercise was grating; however, as you read about how confining her early childhood was, it may be easy to intuit that she was diminished physically from malnutrition earlier in life and some vitamin deficiencies may have occurred due to the confinement in a tiny house. We have to remember that there was a necessity to move Fanny out of her immediate family’s environment in the first place.

    Edmund stood up for Fanny; Fanny was developed and enamored by her “savior”. However, there are a few turning points in the novel that make Fanny the only character with conviction to her true self.

    Read the rest and see if she becomes transformed in your eyes. I did not care for Fanny at all before reading the novel (solely basing my thoughts on her BBC representation). And, although she is far from dynamic, she represents goodness in the form of humility but is definitely bold in not giving into what is expected when it doesn’t feel right for her.

    1. Hmmm. I’m well over half way but I still haven’t changed my mind I’m afraid! I can see your points and the strange thing is, rationally I can completely sympathise with Fanny. She is in a very difficult position and she has had to learn to submit all of her own desires to the will of others – that does take incredible strength of character and courage and I can’t deny that she has that in spades. Regardless, I still can’t like her or enjoy reading about her – she comes across as so flat, so pious, and also, I must say, horrifically judgemental. I will write more about this in another post, but her convictions, while morally upright, are also very smugly delivered – she thinks herself right in every circumstance and everyone else is wrong and terrible – when really, they’re not. I’ve just read the bit where Henry proposes and Fanny’s assumptions about his motives are terribly judgemental and actually rather offensive – he genuinely has grown to care for her and appreciate her, and she throws it back in his face rudely. I hardly call that morally upright.

      I really am struggling to understand her as a character. I think Austen didn’t actually mean her to be the heroine. Just because she gets a husband at the end and is the centre of the book, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s the one we should be rooting for, does it?

      1. Truth be told, I question if we are to root for any of them. However, I think Henry is deplorable, especially by the end of the novel. His true colors show. And, his sister…don’t get me started! She doesn’t want to live the life of a parson’s wife who is actually devoted to the service of his congregation and is fine with living on a small income…then, why bother with trying to seduce him to be with you? I think Fanny isn’t judgmental at all, just a lens for us to see the reality of the rest of the characters. I’m curious if you will think differently once you are finished. Again, I don’t believe this to be the best Austen, and Fanny is far from a dynamic character. She’s convicted to not enter a loveless relationship (wisely so!) and she is also steadfast in her personal disposition. Nothing fake or phony about Fanny…the Crawfords, though? That’s a completely different story.

  2. I’ve just finished Mansfield Park and I entirely agree with you about Henry and Mary Crawford. So they’re a little bit flawed, but they’re far more interesting than Fanny and Edmund. I quite like Fanny (maybe respect would be a better word), but I found Edmund a bit of a hypocrite.

    1. Exactly – they’re a bit flawed but that’s what makes them likeable and interesting – I’m so glad you agree! It’s hard to like anyone who is so perfect all the time, and it’s not just that she is perfect – it’s that she THINKS she is so perfect. That is what bothers me the most. And Edmund is the very definition of hypocrisy! I can’t stand the man!

  3. Your thoughts were so riveting I almost ruined my casserole in the oven! As for Fanny, I would be willing to put up with quite a lot to have a garret bedroom. She’s lucky not to be thrust under the staircase or made to climb up to the attic each night where she has to fold herself in two for lack of head space! Right, that’s me back to the kitchen before I can sound any more like Mrs Patmore.

  4. How very interesting! Totally by coincidence, I opened your blog right next to A Striped Armchair, where Eva also posted today on Mansfield Park. But she had the opposite reaction to Fanny (read here). I think a reread is in order for me too, to find my own opinion on her. I think I must have rushed through it in my post-Pride and Prejudice buzz, because I know I read it but can’t seem to find a reaction to Fanny, myself. I did find your two posts interesting back to back, though! I would love to see the two of you argue your points (in a friendly manner of course) with textual support. What fun.

    1. I did this too! What interesting reading it makes for. I don’t think I have actually read Mansfield Park myself but I think I will have to, it seems to be quite divisive in a way that P&P certainly is not.

      1. It certainly seems that Fanny is a big bone of contention amongst Austen fans…really I can see little in her of value but that probably says more about me as a person. Perhaps that’s what it is – if you’re a more quiet and considerate person, you can relate to Fanny, whereas if you’re a bit more gung ho and opinionated and lacking in moral character like me, then Fanny’s earnestess just rubs you up the wrong way!

  5. I feel a tug going on between the two sides of Jane’s character … the mischievous Jane who enjoyed theatricals and allowed Mary to crack a risqué joke about buggery in the Navy; and the morally upright spinster whose father and brothers were in the Church … and so maybe Jane herself is pulled both ways and, like most readers, feels a bit guilty about liking Fanny less than she ought to.
    Was it Kingsley Amis who said you wouldn’t want to sit next to Mr and Mrs Edmund Bertram at dinner. Mind you, would you want to sit next to Kingsley Amis after he’d had a few?

    1. Interesting…the thing is, I can’t help but think Jane was a Mary Crawford and her attempts to make a woman like Fanny come across as someone we should all like fall flat because she can’t like her herself.

      I like that quote from Kingsley Amis, though sitting next to him for dinner wouldn’t exactly be pleasant either!! I suspect he had wandering hands…

  6. Oh dear – I had better get a move one – I started reading Saturday morning, read only the first chapter – and haven’t picked it up since. Tomorrow could be a reading day to catch up with everyone else.

  7. It’s been ages since I last read this. It’s probably the Austen I’ve read the fewest times overall but it’s certainly the one I have the least consistent reaction to each time I read it. I hate Edmund (that is the one constant in each of my rereads) but sometimes I come away loving Fanny, other times all my affection is devoted to the Crawfords. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts once you’ve finished reading!

    1. Claire, it’s interesting how divisive this novel is! I was warming to Fanny until she was so judgemental and po faced about Henry’s proposal – now I just want to throw her off the nearest high building.

      I love the Crawfords – they’re fantastic. Maybe because Mary reminds me of…me?!😉

  8. Of all Austen’s books, this seems a bit like The Odd One Out. To me, interesting, sparkly, intelligent characters are the main attractions of a good book. Mansfield Park is the only Austen novel I read just once because I don’t feel very drawn to any of the characters (except, at times, the “villainous” ones, as you mentioned…but not much).

    I remember Edward’s molding of Fanny and her desire to be and do exactly as he wants. Eek! In ‘Emma’, Mr. Knightley criticizes Emma and also helps to shape her character, but he does this out of love and wanting Emma to meet her potential. And she doesn’t just follow him blindly without thinking – they have a mutually respectful and loving relationship. He doesn’t try to make her into his own vision of perfection and he sees her exactly for who she is and loves her despite her flaws.

    Contrasting the two relationships just makes Edward and Fanny more disappointing and two dimensional I think.

    Nonetheless, I still enjoyed Mansfield Park and finishing it was still a pleasure rather than a chore.🙂

    1. Oh, and obviously Emma and Fanny’s situations are completely different but I don’t think Fanny’s position requires her to be such a blank slate and so devoid of personality.

    2. Yes – the thing is, I am enjoying the novel very much – the fact that neither Fanny nor Edmund are likeable is actually increasing my enjoyment as I am getting more and more worked up the more I read – and I really like Henry and Mary Crawford. Emma and Mr Knightley’s relationship is totally different to Edmund and Fanny’s, and Mr Knightley doesn’t come across as a total know-it-all or consider himself the guardian of society’s morals in the way Edmund does. What bothers me about Edmund and Fanny is that they are both so certain of their own moral superiority, and their judgement and dislike of those who do not exactly share their own viewpoints makes them no better – and perhaps even worse – than those they see themselves fit to judge.

  9. This and Emma are the two Austen novels I’ve only read once, but I definitely am among those who liked Fanny. She’s not among my favorite Austen heroines at all, but I do remember wanting things to turn out well for her. If I remember correctly, I think I also look a rather violent dislike to some of the other characters, which made Fanny look all the better. But it’s been so long since I read it that I hardly remember any details.

    1. Out of respect for Jane, I have in fact made it through this book twice and disliked it both times — but this this post and thread have me considering another go round.

    2. Hi Cath – what’s strange is that my dislike of Fanny hasn’t translated into a dislike of the novel itself – I think Mansfield Park is very well written and I am thoroughly enjoying the world and the characters Austen has created. A lack of an endearing heroine isn’t really bothering me – I can’t say it’s ever going to be a favourite Austen, but I am in awe at her skill in making me amused and entertained while not allowing me to like either the hero or heroine. I think in any other author’s hand this book would have been a failure, but somehow, she is still managing to pull it off! Do give it another go – outside of Fanny, there’s a lot to enjoy!

  10. Yes. Fanny is dull and worthy and her virtues are not those in favour in the 21 century whereas Mary Crawford is a true siren,not only witty and lively but also well rounded enough to appreciate Fanny’s good qualities at their true value.

    I have always enjoyed Mary (and Henry) Crawford more than Fanny and Edmund and wonder about Jane Austen’s intentions in this book. I am sure that her intentions were not to promote the values espoused (or not espoused) by the Crawfords, but to highlight the hard won moral victories of the solid but personally unappealing heroine. You are so right Edmund is simply awful.

    Enjoying your insights.

    1. I entirely agree with you about Mary – she’s not perfect but she’s not horrible either – she is not cruel or manipulative and she genuinely values Fanny and admires her qualities. She knows that she would be good for her brother and that her brother would treat her well – she may be a bit underhanded but she doesn’t mean anything by it – she doesn’t have any intentions to cause harm. I like her a lot, and can relate to her character, as can I to Henry’s – he is not cruel either, just mischevious. He never means any real harm to anyone and is actually very kind and considerate in his behaviour to Fanny and her brother.

      Austen’s intentions are a bit of an enigma to me. Fanny might be morally upright but she is also judgemental and so I don’t see her in the perfect light others seem to. She is actually rather cruel and unyielding in her judgements of others – she gives no second chances. Her and Edmund thoroughly deserve each other!!

  11. This is actually my favorite Austen and I could go on endlessly about the reasons why, and the reasons why Fanny has to be the way she is in order to make a particular point — but I will wait till you have finished the book and see if you have changed your views at all.

    1. Harriet, I would genuinely LOVE to hear your insights as I am struggling to find any redeeming features in Fanny! I can see why this could be a favourite Austen – it is a very rich and entertaining novel – but I must say I have never heard anyone claim MP as their favourite before! Please come back and tell me more, Harriet!

  12. Oh crap! I’ve been so busy recently that I’ve only managed the first two or three chapters. I’m getting very behind – must try and catch up! X

  13. Fanny is the toughest character in the whole book! How she holds out against the charm of Henry Crawford when he visits Portsmouth (I love those Portsmouth scenes) is beyond me. She is poor, dependent and stands to lose everything yet she holds out for what she believes to be right against heavy persuasion. And in the end, she gets what she wants, unlike nearly everyone else.
    Jane Austen does throw out the question as to whether the two couples, Edmund/Mary & Fanny/Henry could have improved each other. This is what makes Mansfield Park for me the most discussable of all Jane Austen’s books, although Emma will always be my favourite.

    1. Toughest and meanest, Barbara!! I haven’t got as far as the Portsmouth section yet so I cannot comment but I do think that Fanny’s dislike of Henry is rather mean spirited, especially as he is not really guilty of any wrong doing or unkindness to her. She certainly does have the courage of her convictions – I can’t deny her that – but she is very ungenerous towards those less..shall we say…virtuous than herself. She might be morally upstanding but her incredibly judgemental attitude is something I can’t admire in the slightest, or give her credit for.
      I do think that Fanny could have been livened up by marrying Henry, and had her eyes opened to a world that didn’t involve constant self sacrifice and following a strict moral code that seems to punish others for enjoying a bit of fun and mischeviousness. Edmund would certainly have been better off marrying Mary – she would have brought him down to earth. I don’t think Mary or Henry need much improving – I don’t see them as villains -they’re just normal people!
      MP is certainly highly discussable…perhaps that was Austen’s aim. She wanted to write a romance that wasn’t a romance and see what feelings this triggered in an audience that had been programmed to want and expect a happy ending!

    2. Barbara — yes! I so agree about Fanny’s toughness though I wouldn’t have thought of using that word. I shall be saying more soon, once Rachel has finished reading.

  14. I’m glad to see that I am not alone in thinking that Fanny is terribly two dimensional. I too find myself struggling to care for her in the way you should for an Austen protagonist. I’m interested to read your take in Edmund as controlling and sly. Though fully supported this is not the feeling I had of him by the end of the book. Perhaps his attention to Fanny seems overwhelming compared to her continual neglect by other characters. Please update this once you’ve finished as, especially in the case of the Crawfords, I think your reading may change. Also I’d recommend the 1999 film adaptation which gives Fanny a strength very unlike her timid frame in the book.

    1. You are certainly not alone, Jennifer!! I am interested to see how my feelings change by the time I get to the end…at the moment I’m not convinced they will – Edmund has got to pull something special out of the bag for me to change my mind – but I’m prepared to be open! I don’t think I’ve seen an MP adaptation – so I will watch one once I’ve finished. I imagine it’s quite tricky to film without having to take some liberties to endear Fanny to the viewer…

  15. When I first read ‘Mansfield Park’ (as a 17 year old) I was really disappointed, but now I see Fanny as being stoic and having great strength of character. I appreciate. ‘Mansfield Park’ much more now, but it is still my least favorite Austen novel.

    1. I can see her as being stoic and of strong character too, but I still can’t like her!! I appreciate the novel as being well written but Fanny and Edmund just do nothing for me!!

  16. First let me say that I’m a big fan of your blog (though this is the first time I comment) and that I think you have great taste in literature and I respect your opinions. But I need to have a little rant in defense of Fanny, just imagine I’m saying this in the nicest tone possible.

    I don’t get why everyone finds Fanny so dull. Don’t you realise what a terrible situation she is in? She doesn’t have a penny to her name, she can’t afford to be independent. The Bertrams have taken her in as a charity case, and her position in the household is worse than that of a servant. (At least a servant gets wages and can look for another job if he likes.) She can not go back to her family, because she has been educated well beyond her social sphere. She is completely trapped and dependent.

    Of course Mary Crawford is more interesting. She can afford to be lively and headstrong and have an opinion about everything. She doesn’t need to keep anyone’s good opinion and can tread on as many toes as she likes because she has an independent fortune.

    I completely agree with Barbara. Given this situation, I can’t believe she is not even tempted by the chance she is given, later in the book, to better her situation. Talk about a spine of steel.

    And I also think it’s refreshing to have a book where the heroine for once is not obviously beautiful and so sure of herself. Hurray for the timid heroine with low self esteem and social awkwardness. Not everyone is born an Elizabeth Bennett.

    Sorry for the rant, I hope you don’t mind. But Fanny is a character I care deeply about. I totally agree about Edmund though. I wish she could have found a more deserving object for her affections.

    1. Hi Elke, I’m so glad you commented at last! I really enjoyed reading your comments. I can understand why Fanny is as she is – her position is very difficult and I completely agree with you – Mary can afford to be as she is because she has money and doesn’t need anyone’s good opinion to get on in life. However, I don’t think Fanny needs to be quite as two dimensional and rigid as she is – I don’t think she IS a heroine – she stands up for herself when she feels her morals are being attacked but that’s about the only vaguely heroic thing she does do – she refuses to be nice to Henry or Mary because she decides they are not worthy of her friendship and she considers herself too good to marry Henry. She considers her own outlook on the world to be the only right one, and it is this sense of moral superiority and quiet smugness that I absolutely cannot stand!!

  17. I found it interesting that Fanny’s mother and Lady Bertram were both spacey-lazy kind of people but Mrs. Price’s shortcomings determined her fate. In Lady Bertram’s case, it hardly mattered. The difference being…money. In the 1999 adaptation, the sisters were played by the same actress, Lindsay Duncan — making it easy to see the consequences of Mrs. Price’s poor marriage choice. They barely looked like the same person.

    1. Yes, Lady Bertram and Mrs Price are rather damning portraits of womanhood, aren’t they?! It’s interesting how Lady Bertram has really done nothing with her position or good fortune…she has just dozed her life away. I must rewatch that 1999 version – it sounds like a fascinating adaptation that may make me think of MP in a different way!

  18. The discussion group AUSTEN-L has been around since the mid to late 1990s. There have been several “Fanny Wars” prompting the administrators of the group to make this suggestion to newcomers:

    The heroine of Mansfield Park has always been a controversial topic on AUSTEN-L, and we have had periodic “Fanny Price wars”, which one should avoid exacerbating needlessly and gratuitously. Therefore if you have just subscribed, and are new to the list, then it would be advisable, before you post any standing questions or urgent reflections about Miss Price, to take into account the current state of any discussions of the topic on the list, and especially whether or not a “Fanny Price war” has just ended (in such a case, your posting may serve to fan the dying embers of argument into fresh flames, just when many list members were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief); to check on this, you can retrieve or search the list archives. Meanwhile, you should be careful about casually throwing around words such as the following in reference to Miss Price: “insignificant”, “moralizing prig”, “feeble”, “dull”, or “nebbish” — not because these are necessarily objectively wrong, but because on AUSTEN-L they are what the U.S. Supreme court has termed “fighting words”.

    You can read more (for example, The Definitive Fanny Bashing) at http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/austen-l.html#X12

    @:-)

  19. I think there is always a danger of assuming that people from the past (even imaginary ones!) think the same way we do, but I believe that’s a mistake. Just look at our own time – I’m in my fifties, and when I was born, blacks in the southern part of my country had to sit at the back of a public bus, whereas now such a thing would be illegal. And everyone went along with it back then they same way they all go along with the status quo now.

    I also find this book two dimensional – almost like Jane Austen was describing everything from afar, and without as much interest and involvement as is usual in her writings. Even though I know Fanny is good, she is portrayed as too dull. But, for those who know how the book ends, we know she has the strongest moral character of anyone in the story. So, I really think she deserves to SEEM more interesting. I read this a few years ago, and it’s not my favorite, by any means; I find it a strange story, with too many unappealing people in it (Fanny, not being one of them). I dislike everyone except Fanny and Edmund. Well, I don’t actually dislike Lady B. – she’s too blah to make you actively dislike her, but you can’t actively like her, either. Sir Thomas seems a good man, but without warmth, like many parents. But not actually likeable. I’m only up to chapter 12 or so – he’s expected home soon; Edmund’s falling in love with Mary Crawford; Maria’s feeling the heat of the approaching marriage and is liking Henry’s flirtations. I don’t remember if it becomes less two dimensional as the story goes on.

    Today, I was admiring Edmund’s defense of his opinions to Mary – he expresses himself very well, in contrast to Fanny, who’s so quiet. I don’t think he made her in his image – she turns out made of better stuff than he. I think you’re too harsh with him; he thinks and tries to behave like a clergyman should, except with regard to Mary, but he learns his mistake before it’s too late – he’s human, like the rest of us, and I can’t criticize him for that. As for his “emotional power” over Fanny – I really disagree with that, Rachel! I don’t think anyone has emotional power over Fanny, or not any that would affect her behavior. She may tremble within, but she’ll always behave rightly, whatever may happen as a consequence. I think she loves/is attached to Edmund because they are basically so similar in their desire toward right thinking and right behavior. And they’ve always seen this in each other. As for Mary Crawford, the only similarity between her and LIzzie Bennett is their liveliness! Lizzie was not “light” in the old-fashioned meaning of the word – lacking in depth and seriousness. But Mary is just a more beautiful, clever, and intelligent version of the Bertram girls – very selfish, easily bored, and having no thought for eternal things.

    I can’t understand why Jane Austen made Fanny “dull” – she’s almost perfect, but not portrayed so. Did she really think that “saints” must be boring people? I’ve never read her correspondence; maybe they would explain it. So, I’m strongly disagreeing with you on many points, but am enjoying the book, and this read-along! I think you’re going to finish it before I am! 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa, thank you for your thoughts! I agree, it is a rather strange story and I am a bit perplexed as to what Austen was trying to get at with it…it’s not very romantic and it’s difficult to really care about what happens to any of the characters!

      I think we’re going to come to blows over this one!! I think Edmund has a great deal of power over Fanny in that she so desires to please him and have his good opinion…I think, whether she realises it or not, wanting to please Edmund ever since she was a child has meant that she has adopted his moral values and his opinions and I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are similar in temperament – Edmund is far more fickle and opinionated than Fanny – and I really can’t see any evidence of him being genuinely bothered about being a clergyman – but perhaps I am just biased!

      I don’t think Mary is selfish and neither do I think she is shallow – she is realistic and knows herself well – she is fun and intelligent and unafraid to speak her mind and in that sense she is very much like Lizzie Bennett. I really don’t see her as being a bad character at all – she’s just a normal girl with the same flaws as any other. She doesn’t do anything out of genuine malice, just tactlessness. And, to be fair, it IS dull to be stuck in the countryside with a much older sister because you’ve been chucked out of your home thanks to a nasty uncle. Mary’s life is not charmed either and she has to make the best of what she has.

      I get the impression sometimes while reading MP that Austen’s heart wasn’t quite in it when she was writing it…there is a lack of sympathy in all of the characters…I don’t feel that Austen particularly cared for any of them herself, and that would explain why they never quite come to life.

      It’s fun to discuss a book that divides people so markedly, isn’t it?!

      1. You know, I’m up to the point where Sir Thomas comes back while they’re in the midst of the play, and I keep thinking about your views of the characters as I’m reading. Fanny is very influenced by Edmund – kind of like a grateful pet, or something. But, I still think that she has her own mind, also; if she were simply a “copy” of him, so to speak, she wouldn’t end up being better and stronger than he at the end. She is her own person, and I still think her inner moral strengths are her own.

        I don’t see Edmund as fickle, just human. He knows what’s right behavior, but we all have weaknesses – and we can’t always learn what they are until temptation comes along. He was blinded by his attraction to Mary.

        As for her, she is a lot like LIzzie B., but I can’t imagine Lizzie behaving in that light way. I keep thinking of Lizzie’s post-Darcy letter reaction – “till this moment, I never knew myself” (or whatever it was) and I can’t see Mary Crawford wanting to get so honest with herself. But she is very witty and intelligent, to be sure. I see Lizzie as having a moral compass within that Mary has no interest in.

        About Jane A.’s heart not being in it – yes! That’s a good way of putting it. But her mind was CERTAINLY in it – her detailed observations and descriptions are so precise. But, what was she trying to say with this book? She makes criticisms against Mrs. Norris and the Bertram girls, but I don’t detect any critical attitude when describing Fanny or Edmund. So, why is Fanny so blah and flat? Although, I noticed in the description of the old schoolroom where Fanny loves to go, she was coming more alive for a while.

        Still, I’m wondering if the real villain here is not knowing oneself.

    2. Great thoughts, Lisa. You’re ALMOST making me warm to Edmund.😉 Interestingly I am liking Fanny a bit more as I near the end…I can see her more as a vulnerable, sheltered, lonely girl now who has had little external influence, and as such, I can’t expect her to be lively and spirited and opinionated. She is boring but that’s because she’s never had the chance to develop much of a personality…nothing happens at Mansfield to allow her to know much about anything. So I am trying to cut her some slack. We’ll see how I feel by the very end.

      It’s interesting that you think Mary has no moral compass…I disagree. I think she does, and that she feels very deeply, and is aware of her own faults – she just doesn’t do anything about fixing them, because she doesn’t see the point of trying to change herself. She’s not a bad person – just lacking in sensitivity and patience with Fanny’s more easily offended, mild personality. She does respect and admire Fanny a lot which shows that she does value her morals…she just doesn’t necessarily feel the need to practice them!

      I’m confused as to Austen’s intentions and whether she meant Fanny to be flat or whether she just lacked the ability to make Fanny likeable. It would be easy to say that Fanny is more ‘of her time’ than Austen’s other heroines which is why we feel differently towards her, but then a lot of contemporary readers disliked her too. I am loathe to criticise Austen’s skill but it does seem like Fanny has a vital ingredient missing…she never quite comes alive for me.

      1. You are right – you are right about Mary; but I guess to me, if she’s got a moral compass but ignores it – that’s worse than not having one!! To me, that’s bad! So, I guess we’re seeing her the same way, but interpreting it differently. (I think that’s what I mean)

        At mid-point, I’m seeing Jane Austen is showing more of Fanny’s inner life and way of thinking, which is giving her a bit more dimension. Now, I’ll go read your newest post about Mansfield Park!

  20. I’m sneaking in here as I haven’t read “Mansfield Park” yet (still feeling tired after holiday madness) but the conversations are so interesting, I just have to join! and I’m going to start reading, pronto. It’s been so long since I’ve read about Fanny but I found her lack of pick-up-and-go maddening. She’s a bizarre heroine to have because she certainly does Not move the plot. The plot rather, happens to her. So that’s rough. I never found Edmund to be sneaky- I’m always prone to fall in love with male characters. Witness Newland Archer, who I still think is hot, even though I know rationally he’s a complete ass! So I’m pretty curious to see my take on Edmund this time.
    I was thinking about Fanny in relation to Jane Fairfax. Jane Fairfax is another one odd one- things tend to happen to her rather than she making them happen. She’s quiet, she’s two-dimensional, okay Frank Churchill is cute but he treated her so very bad! and yet she marries him Happily. She’s a mystery, we never really know her. You mentioned us not knowing Fanny’s thoughts and so we can’t really know Fanny neither. So here’s a theory: Fanny and Jane are both Jane Austen’s take on introverts, these weird quiet people who are a complete enigma to her. I can’t know if Austen was an introvert but I’m guessing not. I wonder if she was riddling them out and while it just Didn’t work to have one as the main heroine, it did work very well as a secondary character in her next book, “Emma”.

    1. Hi Catherine! Very interesting thoughts. Fanny is definitely a very passive agent…she is so frustrating to me because I am a staunchly active person!

      I love your comparison to Jane Fairfax…I hadn’t thought of that before. Both of them are also dependants, taken into the homes of other people and in a position of permanent gratitude…powerless people, I suppose. Somehow Jane is a bit more likeable though…as she is less judgemental than Fanny. Fanny is just so certain of her own goodness and that’s what bothers me!

      1. Now that’s a telling remark – “certain of her own goodness”. Is she? Or is she just very tuned in to her moral compass? She IS good. So, if she’s good, and certain of her rightness, what’s bad about that? 😀

  21. Booksnob, there is layer within layer within layer in Mansfield Park, as in all of Jane Austen’s novels. I have about 30 posts at my Austen-themed blog where I discuss aspects of Mansfield Park, many of them relating to the mysterious Mary Crawford. Here is a sampler, let me know what you think, and feel free to discuss any of my ideas here as well as in my blog.

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/02/sir-thomass-desperate-and-despotic_18.html

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2010/11/jane-austens-great-chasms-and-dirty.html

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2012/01/mary-crawford-harp-y.html

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2009/08/rears-and-vices-redux.html

    Patricia Rozema’s 1999 film adaptation picked up on a great deal of shadowy darkness that really is there in the novel!

    Cheers, ARNIE
    @JaneAustenCode

      1. Thank you, Booksnob!

        Please browse in my blog to your heart’s content, and I always am thrilled to receive comments, so don’t hesitate to do so if the mood strikes you.

        And I also invite you and your readers to follow me on Twitter at @JaneAustenCode.

        Cheers, ARNIE

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