Mansfield Park: Wrap Up

Well, reading Mansfield Park opened quite the can of worms, didn’t it? I knew that Mansfield Park was a hotly debated Austen, and one a lot of die hard fans find difficult to love, but little did I know that there have been out and out “Fanny Wars” (thanks Margaret!) – and I think a mini Fanny War may have broken out in the comments section of this very blog as my dislike of this highly irritating embodiment of all character traits I abhor has increased with every page! However, now I have finished, and can look at the novel holistically, I can approach it with less emotion and more appreciation for what Austen was trying to do. In pitting the religious and morally upstanding Fanny and Edmund against the secular and frivolous Mary and Henry, she is exploring the impact and consequences of a modernising society where traditional values and behaviours were starting to be eroded.

Mary and Henry are city dwellers, into excitement, fashion and frivolity. They don’t see the value in Fanny and Edmund’s strict code of living, which considers the effect of individual decisions on others and looks to be transparent and just. This is the behaviour that is necessary to adopt when living in a small, rural community where everyone is far more reliant on one another, but it is largely unnecessary in a large city where no one knows their neighbours and feels no obligation to those living around them. Tom, Maria and Julia Bertram possess the more city-minded character traits of Henry and Mary because they have been brought up to know that there is a world outside of Mansfield that they will get to take advantage of in future. Edmund, as the second son, has always known that he must take on the clergyman’s living, and so he has grown up to be fundamentally different from his siblings. They long to be amongst fashionable society, and have no interest in serving their local community and being good examples to others, whereas Edmund has had to develop a character suitable for forming the hearts and minds of the local villagers. As Fanny’s closest ally, Edmund has naturally become her mentor and guide, forming her mind along the same lines as his. Like Edmund, Fanny cannot look forward to a life spent amongst fashionable people; she is a poor relation and will be lucky if she marries at all. Therefore, she holds on to the strongly religious, community minded values Edmund has instilled in her, hating all frivolity, as it belongs to a world she will never be enabled to join.

In the early 1800s, the world was a rapidly changing place. Industrialisation and urbanisation were swinging into action, wars were raging all over Europe, and the terror of the French Revolution had seeped fear into the hearts of the aristocracy. Information about the goings on outside of the local community was becoming much more widely available, and the decadence and frivolity of life in the upper echelons of society was starting to filter down to the lower classes. Traditional 18th century values of piety and reserve were not being adopted by a new generation, whose behaviour reflected a more uncertain world that would no longer necessarily see them tied to the same communities as their ancestors. Fanny and Edmund’s faith in these 18th century values is mocked by the more 19th century habits of their friends and relations, who seek to put themselves and their enjoyment first.

Edmund loves Mary Crawford despite what he views as being her ‘many flaws’ – namely her frivolity and lack of Christian values – and genuinely believes that he can change her and show her the error of her ways. Fanny never believes that Mary can change, and has an intense dislike of both Mary and Henry from the start of their acquaintance, considering them to be lacking in character and conscience and totally unworthy of her or Edmund’s friendship. Mary and Henry are destructive to Fanny’s peace and comfort; Mary almost steals the man she loves, Henry tries to make Fanny marry him against her will, and Mary and Henry’s frivolous, light hearted take on life consistently clashes with Fanny’s values and makes her uncomfortable and distressed. Fanny is very certain of what is right and what is wrong, and her only show of any character or independence is when these morals are challenged. At other times, her passivity is infuriating to a more modern audience; she is the sort of girl who cries at every slight and refuses to stand up for herself, though this delicacy of character is explained away by Austen as being a consequence of her subordinate position in a household where she has not quite got the status of a family member, and is treated more as an indulged servant. Unsure of herself and conscious of having to please others at all times, she has naturally developed a rather nervous disposition, and this would be forgiveable if Fanny were not such a prig.

For – and bring it on, Fanny fans, if you want to try and disagree with me! – Fanny IS a prig, and no matter of difficult home circumstances or delicate dispositions can make me sympathise with her because of it. I was beginning to warm to her until she behaved so unnecessarily nastily to Henry Crawford (who I quite fancy, actually – I love a bad boy), who genuinely loves her and was doing his best to change his ways in order to become the man he knew Fanny deserved. After her cold rudeness to him, and dismissal of his behaviour as being false without making any effort to get to know him beyond the superficial knowledge she had from watching him during the play, she was dead to me. What I so intensely dislike about Fanny’s character is that she has no time for anyone who goes against her narrow view of what is the right way to behave. She is intolerant and unaccepting of difference; she cannot see any good in Mary and Henry, despite there being plenty, because their ways of behaving are not to her taste. Fanny cannot appreciate or understand their points of view, their difference in upbringing, their take on the world, and she doesn’t try to. It is this judgemental attitude that makes Fanny so infuriating, and an heroine that it is virtually impossible to love.

This is a fascinating, complex novel that feels very different from Austen’s other novels and presents the reader with a great deal of autonomy in the interpretation of its characters. Even in Austen’s day, readers were torn over Fanny; some loved her and appreciated her moral strength; others praised Mary Crawford’s vivacity and couldn’t stand Fanny’s priggishness. There is just enough information about Fanny and her background to make us sympathise with her, but there is also plenty of rope provided to hang her on. Edmund and Fanny’s staunch belief in their own rectitude and resistance of the more open minded, fun loving attitude to life that Mary, Henry and the Bertram siblings share, brings them happiness in the end, as they marry one another and enjoy wedded bliss in the Rectory in the quiet surroundings of Mansfield. Only Maria is really punished by Austen, as she is the one who has truly sinned;ย banished to a cottage with only Mrs Norris for company for the rest of her days, this is an exceptionally cruel end. Tom is nearly killed off for being naughty, but he is allowed to recover and mend his ways. Julia runs off with Mr Yates but is happy regardless. Finally, Mary and Henry’s fates remain vague, their futures open-ended. While Fanny and Edmund have technically won the ‘happy ever after’ prize, their rather dull life doesn’t feel particularly triumphant. Austen seems to be saying that staunch traditionalism is not something to be rewarded, and yet neither is complete flouting of social convention, a la Maria Rushworth.

So, what does she intend for us to take away from Mansfield Park? Perhaps that a happy medium of frivolity with the heart in the right place will bring about no bad end? Mary doesn’t get an immediate happy ever after, but there’s no reason why she won’t in future. I couldn’t help but get the impression that Austen liked Mary Crawford more than any other character, and that while she makes errors of judgement, she most certainly never comes across as a truly bad person. Misguided and selfish on occasion, yes, but malicious and unkind, no, certainly not. Mary is a modern woman, and Fanny is a throwback to a former age that is no longer in existence and will never be again. Her narrowmindedness will do her no good in a rapidly changing world, and perhaps this is why her and Edmund’s marriage does not feel like an especially happy ending; two people so stuck in their ways cannot bring much benefit or joy to society. Mary, Henry and the Bertrams (perhaps except Maria) are more pliable and willing to adapt; they learn from their mistakes and have an ability to embrace, enjoy and be a part of a changing world. Fanny’s inability to understand or like people who differ from her is no way to live in 1814, and so ultimately I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Austen did not mean us to esteem Fanny, but instead to view her as a naive and misguided hanger on to a world that had already started to pass away. Mansfield Park is a ‘modern’ house, after all; its inhabitants must learn to be so too, if they are to prosper in a new century.

I look forward to hearing your opinions! My reading of Austen will continue, probably in about a month or so; I plan on tackling Sense and Sensibility next, so if you fancy joining me, watch this space!

47 comments

  1. Mansfield Park, in addition to all its charms, has a wealth of information for Dickens scholars; Fanny’s visit to her parent’s in Portsmouth presents the town and the living conditions that the Dickens family would have experienced when Charles was born there in 1812. Yet another reason to be grateful to Jane Austen.

    1. Charles, as ever, you are a mine of useful information! Thank you for pointing that out – that’s a very interesting fact for me to note as I plan on doing some Dickens reading this year in honour of the 200 year anniversary!

  2. I’ll give you your interpretation of the novel because I respect it, even if it differs greatly from mine. However, from my perspective of being married to two bad boys who I thought would have loved me forever and never look upon another again (because they did profess it boldly, each one) but in the end completely devastated me, I’d say that Fanny was ultimately the wisest of them all in that she remained true to herself and Austen allowed her to remain true to the point of seeing Henry (and the likes of Mary) for who he really was. Really, Fanny drove his desire for her away from him because she kept saying “No!”? He’s a cad and a cad, Fanny could see, he would always be. Bad boys only tame when they really want to do so…Fanny was a challenge and that’s all she was. Had Austen married her off to the ever-so-likable but not very reliable Henry Crawford, happily ever after wouldn’t have occurred. And, we know that had Edmund been any different from who he was (even if he tried to defy that by allowing himself to be mesmerized by Mary on the surface), he and Mary would have also had a loveless, cheerless marriage.

    That’s reality and I believe that is exactly what Austen was painting as a picture with her words. However, the interpretation of literature is based on our personal experiences mixed with the words and story in front of us. My 44 years lead me to believe that Fanny was very wise, if weak, for a young woman.

    I think the comment above mine speaks volumes of the reality of the life Fanny was leading, one in which we know that her circumstances would be hard pressed to improve any more than what she wound up with in the end. She was a passing whimsy for Henry…nothing more…

    Sorry, still agreeing to disagree…isn’t that the loveliness of interpretation?

    1. Indeed it is, Tina, indeed it is!

      I respect your take on the novel too, and can see why many people would view Henry as incapable of change…he does go off with Maria Rushworth after all. However, I do think that if he had married Fanny, he would have stayed faithful to her – his dogged pursuit of her despite her lack of interest could be interpreted as him enjoying the thrill of the chase, but actually, I think he genuinely respects her and wants to become a man she will respect in turn. I read his character as a willing reformer – he is a cad because he hasn’t met anyone who he wants to settle down for yet – he wants to have fun and play the field, but when he meets Fanny, his attitude changes. Let’s not forget he’s only about 22 or 23 – hardly a grown man. He’s entitled to a little frivolity and lack of good judgement as he’s not mature yet.

      However I do see your perspective – not having had your experiences, perhaps I have a little too much faith in men!๐Ÿ˜‰ Austen is very good at describing just the sort of man Henry is, which suggests she too had had an experience of the love em and leave em type – haven’t we all?!

      I do agree though that Mary and Edmund would have had a miserable marriage – Edmund would have married Mary on the condition of thinking that he could change her, and that would have led to nothing but frustration and disappointment on his side and fury on her side.

      It’s so interesting how each of us bring our own experiences to bear on the characters in the novel – perhaps younger people have more patience with Mary and Henry because they are more like them, and those who are more mature can see from experience that such behaviours don’t lead to happiness? Maybe. At the moment I celebrate joie de vivre and lightheartedness, but perhaps when I am older I will come to see that being steady is ultimately the better quality. Only time will tell I suppose!

      1. I will say this, whereas my situation isn’t unique and definitely driven by young decision-making and free will, I would never hope that anyone becomes jaded by similar circumstances. There is a wee bit still inside of me who loves the bad boy; however, I am skeptical about the reformation of him by anyone’s influence but his own.

        You brought up a point that solidifies that notion, though, one in which I didn’t see until now. Maybe Fanny was that one? Not 100% in agreement because, as you noted 22 or 23, especially for a male figure back then, would have been considered young. Also, given his penchant for a bit of “having it all”, he may have been grossly immature. However, years down the road, as an older character in the story, I might have viewed him as different if Fanny were the one who caught his eye.

        Being steady is a good quality; however, I don’t embrace the notion of giving up on lightheartedness with age – just embracing a bit of wisdom to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run” (thought I’d share a spot of Americana with you in the former of country crooner – and reformed bad boy – Kenny Rogers). ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Thanks Tina…I suppose we’ll never really know whether Henry genuinely had good intentions…just like we never really know that about men! They’re a tough breed to fathom!๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. You know, I don’t mind Fanny not wanting to marry Henry Crawford, because it’s her life and she can do what she wants, but I did think she was intolerant. You’ve put your finger on it exactly — she’s utterly unforgiving of people’s flaws. Not an attractive characteristic in a heroine.

    1. I don’t mind that Fanny didn’t want to marry Henry, either – if you don’t love someone, you don’t love someone – but there’s no need to be so MEAN and that is what I didn’t like. Not an attractive characteristic at all, no!

  4. That is a most lovely copy. Reading ” Death Comes to Pemberley” by P. D. James. It is quite good! You make me want to P&P and Emma ~~ but not other Jane Austen. You read a beautiful old copy differently than a new one!

  5. I recently found your blog, and I’m loving it.

    Mansfield Park briefly cooled my interest in Jane Austen. Fanny is like a grown-up Elsie Dinsmore. But I didn’t care for Henry either. I always got the impression that even when he might of *thought* he was being sincere, he was more interested in the novelty of Fanny as a conquest than he was in Fanny.

    Are you familiar with the theory that Mansfield Park is a retelling of King Lear? That thought made me respect (if not like) Mansfield Park a little more.

    1. Thanks Bethany, I’m really glad to hear that!

      Ha I never heard of Elsie Dinsmore but I just looked her up and yes you are quite right!! Hmm…I think a lot of people would agree with you on Henry. I actually think he was prepared to change but perhaps I am a wishful thinker!

      No I’m not…and I’m not quite sure if I can see it…Cordelia definitely isn’t a sap…but if it is, then that would be a very interesting angle to take.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. I’m reading ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ at the moment and Kate Vavasor is reminding me of Mary Crawford. After reading Mansfield Park I was very disappointed that Fanny didn’t end up with Henry, but I have to say that Tina’s comment above has given me pause for thought. Maybe my view is too romantic, and the reality of a Fanny/Henry marriage would’ve been misery for Fanny?

    1. Oh that’s an interesting comparison, Joanne…I can see that, actually. Manipulative without meaning to be malicious…

      I don’t think that Fanny should have married Henry as they wouldn’t have made each other happy and Fanny didn’t love him – I wasn’t disappointed that they didn’t marry. I was just disappointed in Fanny’s intolerance and unkindness towards him. I thought there was no need for that.

    2. Joanne, apropos your picking up on Trollope’s veiled allusion to Jane Austen in the Palliser stories (among others of his writings), I suspect you were not aware of the following two passages in writings of Jane Austen which make that allusion that much more interesting!:

      First, in Jane Austen’s novel _Emma_ (1815):

      End of Ch. 20: The like reserve prevailed on other topics. She and Mr. Frank Churchill had been at Weymouth at the same time. It was known that they were a little acquainted; but not a syllable of real information could Emma procure as to what he truly was. “Was he handsome?” — “She believed he was reckoned a very fine young man.” “Was he agreeable?” — “He was generally thought so.” “Did he appear a sensible young man; a young man of information?” — “At a watering-place, or in a common London acquaintance, it was difficult to decide on such points. Manners were all that could be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than they had yet had of Mr. Churchill. She believed every body found his manners pleasing.” Emma COULD NOT FORGIVE HER.

      Beginning of Ch. 21: Emma COULD NOT FORGIVE HER; — but as neither provocation nor resentment were discerned by Mr. Knightley, who had been of the party, and had seen only proper attention and pleasing behaviour on each side, he was expressing the next morning, being at Hartfield again on business with Mr. Woodhouse, his approbation of the whole; not so openly as he might have done had her father been out of the room, but speaking plain enough to be very intelligible to Emma. He had been used to think her unjust to Jane, and had now great pleasure in marking an improvement.

      Second, in Jane Austen’s Letter #82, written Feb. 16, 1813 (i.e., exactly when Jane Austen began writing _Emma_) to her very close friend Martha Lloyd:

      โ€œI suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I CAN HARDLY FORGIVE HER for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”

      And as to the veiled satirical allusion to the Prince Regent in _Emma_, read these articles by my friend Colleen Sheehan:

      http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/sheehan.htm

      All of the above open up huge vistas of previously undetected depths in Jane Austen’s writings, and of course _Mansfield Park_ is only a half-step behind _Emma_ in this regard.

      Cheers, ARNIE
      sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

  7. I’d like to sit down and talk to you for hours about this novel — let’s hope we get the chance one day. I don’t suppose I’d change your mind, but I just want to say a couple of things. First of all I think the reason JA made Fanny as weak and dependent as she is was in order to highlight her extraordinary moral strength. I don’t see her as a prig at all and I am sure Jane didn’t either. It’s hard for us today to see that her values are supposed to be seen as positive and Mary’s lack of them to be wholly negative, but in Jane’s world (which as you rightly say was changing, and, in her view I’m sure, for the worse) to condone adultery as Mary does was simply to demonstrate that you were fundamentally lacking in any moral sense. Of course she and Henry have been brought up badly by an immoral uncle, so that may explain why she can make a joke of it when Henry elopes with Maria, but by the standards of the day, in which Jane undoubtedly believed even if they were becoming outmoded, this was just not done. And I do think you’re mistaken in your belief that Fanny hates Henry — certainly she does not encourage him when he starts to make a play for her, but that’s because she is in love with somebody else. Haven’t you ever been in that situation? And in actual fact it is clear that when he visits her in Portsmouth and seems to be changing for the better, she is strongly tempted to give in — she even starts imagining what life with him might be like and thinks it could have been pleasant. But the strongest thing Fanny does, and I think it is the core of the novel, is to refuse Henry when Sir Thomas starts bullying her to accept him. Weak, dependent little Fanny, who has never said boo to a goose never mind no to any of the Bertrams, really comes into her own here and defends a woman’s right to refuse to marry a man she doesn’t like. Go Fanny! Did you know, by the way, that Jane refused to tell her family, to whom she was reading the novel as she went along with it, whether Fanny would end up with Henry or not? Like you, I love Henry and think he is very fanciable and I suspect Jane did too, but that’s part of the whole thing — as Tina says we, or many of us, love bad boys but that doesn’t mean we should join our lives to them.
    I think JA was a very moral writer, and that in all her novels there are characters who represent her very strictly held values. So though she could see how attractive Mary was, and how easy it would be to love her, I honestly cannot believe that she wanted her readers to approve of her and to despise Fanny. I used to argue that MP was JA’s most feminist novel, because Fanny represents all the weaknesses that have been imposed on women by patriarchy, but that in spite of that she is able to stand up for her beliefs to the most patriarchal figure in the book. Or something like that, anyway, though no doubt I expressed it rather better. Sorry for the rant!

    1. Harriet, thank you for your as always excellent thoughts and I will continue to find it fascinating how people who can share much of the same attitudes and tastes can read Mansfield Park and come to such different conclusions!

      I can see that Fanny has incredible moral strength, and her ability to stand up for herself in the face of Sir Thomas’ attempts to persuade her to take Henry and Mrs Norris’ disapproval is extraordinary and something to be admired. I can see all of Fanny’s good qualities and I can also understand how it feels when you are being courted by someone who you can’t love because your heart has been given to someone else already. I know how difficult that is. However, I can’t not see her behaviour as priggish, intolerant and downright rude. She is nasty to Mary and Henry – really just not nice. And I can’t forgive her for that. For someone who is supposed to be so moral and just, she can be incredibly unforgiving and unfriendly to those she disapproves of, and that rubs me up the wrong way.

      I’m intrigued by your comment about MP being feminist. I haven’t thought of it in that way. Perhaps I am hampered by my inability to like Fanny. I suppose she is rather feminist in daring to deny herself marriage – she clearly believes that a life of singleness and dependence on relatives is preferable to an unhappy marriage, which is rather radical, so I will give you that!! However I do think Austen failed to make Fanny likeable and that is where MP falls down – if Fanny wasn’t so weak and judgemental, then Austen would have written a book that is far more powerful than it ends up being, in my opinion. I don’t think this is an issue of MP failing to appeal to a modern audience either, as it’s clear that contemporary readers struggled with Fanny, too. There is, to me, anyway, a vital ingredient missing in Fanny to make her viable heroine material, which I think prevents Austen from getting any real moral message across, because Fanny is not someone it is easy to respect or want to model oneself upon. She is lacking in that *something* that makes Austen’s other heroines so loveable…I think it might be the intolerance that does it. I can’t get over how much she hates Mary Crawford, and for no particularly good reason – Mary is a bit naughty and manipulative, but she is never nasty or cruel, and all I can think is that Fanny’s jealousy impacts on her ability to see any redeeming qualities in Mary’s character.

      I could debate this for hours, too – I’m sure we’d never agree but it would be fun to discuss it regardless! I’m sure it won’t be long before we have the chance – we should arrange a meet up!

  8. I have to disagree with your historical analysis that the eighteenth century had moral standards which the nineteenth rebelled against Traditional 18th century values of piety and reserve were not being adopted by a new generation as you put it. I’d say the reverse was true, that licentiousness (such as Mary had seen) would become less tolerated as the nineteenth century progressed. I’d see Edmund and Fanny as the modern ones, in tune with the Clapham Sect (William Wilberforce et al); in fact, early Victorians.
    I’ve already said how much we differ about Fanny!

    1. Hi Barbara, thanks for your thoughts. I’m no expert on the Regency period so I could indeed be wrong, but as far as I know the early 1800s, before Victoria came to the throne, were characterised by a spirit of excess and a lack of morality. That’s what the Victorians kicked back against, and why Victoria was such a popular Queen, as she was the antithesis to her debauched and dissolute Hanoverian Uncles. I’ve always considered the strict puritanical Victorian values you’re referring to as being more a feature of the late 1800s, but again, I could be wrong on that.

      Oh that Fanny Price – she’s a tricky pickle isn’t she?!

  9. I didn’t realise such a thing as Fanny Wars existed until now, I just thought it was me and bestie vehementy disagreeing about something fora change. I’m a supporter of Fanny and Edmund and she’s much like you cant stand Fanny’s weakness and judgement, would marry Henry Crawford any day and would aspire to be Mary..though not Maria.

    When I first read the book in high school I was heart broken by Edmund’s temporary lapse by Mary’s beauty and charm and deeply resented I though I would never be able to forgive Edmund if I was in Fanny’s place. Ten years later, I think it adds a bit of realism, most men if not women do falter in their convictions, if only once. Sometimes, you are there to witness this painful phenemenon, and at others you are blessed with ignorance.

    I agree with pretty much everyting Harriet said about FP. With Fanny’s background, nervous disposition, position or lack thereof in the Bertram household to stand up and say no to a stern father figure and refuse the only offer of marriage and an independant wealthy life she may have its no easy task. The reason of her refusal values..and love make it even more perfect in my eyes.

    I guess when you live in a culture where sometimes girls can be coerced into marriage with a Henry, and people consider wealth over morals Fanny Price is every bit of a heroine. I also think Austen is pretty strict moral writer her most lax book was Lady Susan as LS is n’t punished too harshly, but it should be noted Jane Austen though probably wrote the book early on she didn’t submit it for publishing herself. Or by letting charachters live end up with those they married for their money as in S and S Willoughby, JA thinks that when the curtains fall and ‘forever’ begins that life will be punishment in it self. Sorry I’ve veered off MP a bit. But that’s my two cents worth๐Ÿ™‚.
    As for her being mean, i think if you witnessed a badboy carrying on with your engaged cousin, then pursuing you when you did not lead him on, and when you are heart is in another place, when you refuse him, maybe its hard to hide a bit of your judgement, or some negativity..which by the way I didn’t notice but to all those that did. I guess nowadays we are more careful of not being labeled as judgemental whereas I don’t think it was as necessary in that time.

    As always I enjoyed reading your perspective, though different from mine-reminds me of my friend.

    1. Oh yes, it seems that Fanny Wars have been going on ever since the novel was first written!

      Thank you for your wonderful comments!

      I agree with you about Edmund – he’s just a typical young person easily swayed in his affections. I thought it was actually quite good of him to see beyond what he thought of as her flaws and actually dare to love her regardless.

      I can see all of Fanny’s good qualities – this has never been my issue with her. Theoretically yes, she’s strong and she’s good and she’s had a hard time and it’s all very sad but she has no WARMTH and she is judgemental and I don’t like her because of it. I think Austen doesn’t do a brilliant job of making Fanny likeable unfortunately, despite her good qualities. There is no spark to her. And yes, it’s hard to be nice to someone who is pushing themselves on you when you like someone else – but Henry is nothing but nice to her and she reacts to him with a horror that is quite out of proportion, in my opinion! I wouldn’t say no!๐Ÿ˜‰

      I think Austen IS a very moral writer, you’re right, and normally this doesn’t affect the characterisation of her heroines. They all end up doing the ‘right’ thing but they are human and make mistakes along the way – Fanny is just…well, she’s a bit more of a cardboard cutout, in my opinion. But the joy of literature is that we can disagree but still thoroughly enjoy the ensuing discussion! Thank you for taking part!๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I don’t have much to say, because Harriet said it so well ahead of me! And, Misha. Let us not forget that Jane’s father was a clergyman, and they had a good relationship. She makes little critical remarks throughout the book about everyone except Fanny and Edmund.

    I especially agree with Harriet’s remarks about Fanny’s strength of character against Sir Thomas’ attempted persuasions – I was just reading that part today.

    I still wonder why Jane wrote this story, though. Like you said before, she is like an observer; she could have made Fanny much more attractive than she did. She doesn’t criticize her in the book. So, why? Does the story reflect something which went on in her own sphere, and she doesn’t want it to be too obvious? Was she not feeling well, and so her energy wasn’t in it? But, it’s such an involved book in every other particular, that can’t be the reason.

    I never had the impression that Fanny was really rude to anyone – but she was treated by everyone she lived with as a lower-class person, except Edmund. She didn’t have much practice of dealing with people yet. She was thinking more of making herself clear and being true to herself, than of “how can I say this nicely to so-and-so, without seeming too abrupt?”
    I have no doubt that she and Edmund will get on well together, and that she’ll come out of her shell when she has to become a minister’s wife, with everything that entails.

    It’ll take me a bit to finish it, and I’ll be relieved when I do. Until I can discover what Jane Austen was intending, I can’t enjoy it that much. I do too much wondering while I’m reading!

    Thanks for hosting this, Rachel, and I look forward to S&S – a NORMAL JA novel. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Oh Lisa, we are never going to agree, are we?!

      I very much appreciate your comments though, and you have made me reconsider my feelings as to Austen’s intentions. I entirely agree that Fanny showed excellent strength of character in standing up for what she felt was right, but I do think her attitude lacked grace and kindness and that is what I don’t like about her – perhaps it’s because she’s not used to dealing with difficult situations – but still. The unlikeability is still there!

      Yes, it’s a bit of a puzzle really, about why Fanny is such a strange heroine. If she is meant to be an example then she’s not a very good one, because you can’t look up to someone you can’t love. It’s strange that Austen should have written so many fantastic heroines and then randomly come up with Fanny – she feels like a failure. But then in the same book she has come up with Mary, who is a sprightly, spirited, realistic heroine with plenty of life about her. It’s such a conundrum! I can see why people might like Fanny but I just can’t – and there are so many people who also can’t like her that it does lead me to the conclusion that Fanny has not been well written. And I don’t want to say it because I love Austen so much, but Mansfield Park, while being a witty and clever novel, lacks a heart and it’s such a shame!

      You are welcome – thank you for reading along and commenting, adding so much to the discussion! It’s been lovely. I look forward to your comments on S&S – let’s hope we can agree better next time!๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I recollect reading that Thackeray was surprised when his women friends who read Vanity Fair didn’t like Amelia. I don’t know why I am raising this point, but maybe it’s relevant to the Fanny debate in that the author’s intentions are not always realised as planned. Although Jane Austen is perhaps the one (the only?) author where this is a dangerous statement to make: she really knew what she was doing – and maybe it is 21 century sensibilities that rewrite her intentions?

    I have enjoyed reading the comments here; it has been an engaging dialogue. Thank you Rachel. (Oh, and by the way, I wish Harriet would “rant” more often, it was terrific. )

    I look forward to reading your views on Sense and Sensibility.

    1. Yes I agree, Harriet’s rant was excellent!

      I’ve never read any Thackeray…must remedy that. The interesting thing about MP was that many contemporary readers also thought it wasn’t a success, so I don’t necessarily think it’s an issue with it not carrying over to the 21st century…I just don’t think Fanny is a very well written heroine. She lacks warmth and that is the essential problem – it seems that Austen didn’t instil her with the same sense of life that she did her other heroines.

      So glad you’ve enjoyed all the comments – it’s been fun, hasn’t it! Look forward to having you reading along when I start S&S!๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Hi Rachel, thanks for all your hard work in running the MP readalong. I have enjoyed it.
    I highly recommend Professor Mary Waldron’s book Jane Austen And The Fiction Of Her Time.
    It has completely changed my reading of Jane Austen’s novels. I disliked Fanny until I read
    this book. Mary Waldron incidentally is a fabulous speaker – – she gave an amazing talk at
    the London JA Soc while I was living there.

    1. You are welcome Merenia, and I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed reading along! Thanks for that recommendation – I shall hunt it down. Though her argument will have to be very good to convince me to like Fanny!๐Ÿ™‚

  13. What a great discussion! It’s really made me think about MP and different ways of seeing it. Thanks for doing this, Rachel. I look forward to Sense and Sensibility!

    1. Thanks Susan – me too! It’s wonderful how many sides to a novel you can find when other people are reading along with you! Glad you’ll be looking forward to the next Austen!

  14. Wouldn’t it have been great if Jane Austen had written a book with Mary Crawford as the heroine? I didn’t completely like her in Mansfield Park, but she is a very interesting character. I’m sure she would appear to greater advantage in a town setting.

    And though we don’t agree about Fanny – but stopped short of an out-and-out Fanny war – thank you very much for your amazing posts. What a great exchange of ideas.

    I’m really looking forward to your posts about Sense and Sensibility. Although … are you team Marianne or team Elinor?? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Elke, in many ways I think Mary Crawford is ALSO a heroine of Mansfield Park! Jane Austen told some of her novels from the point of view of one heroine, while giving us a second heroine (I call her the “shadow heroine”) from whose perspective the entire story takes on a radically different slant.

      So Jane Fairfax is the shadow heroine of Emma, Marianne is the shadow heroine of S&S, and Jane Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, and Mary Bennet are ALL shadow heroines, in different ways, of P&P.

      I would also suggest that the official heroine is a representation of Cassandra Austen, while the shadow heroine is a representation of Jane Austen herself (one reason why Miss Fairfax and Miss Bennet are both named “Jane”!).

      Cheers, ARNIE
      @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

    2. I think it would have been, Elke! She is very interesting and multi dimensional; there is a lot more under the surface with her that never really got brought into the light. I think her rather sarcastic and light hearted tone is hiding a lot of pain and uncertainty underneath and I would have liked that to have been explored a little more.

      You are welcome and I’m glad you have enjoyed the posts! I’ve loved the discussion, even if it has gotten a little heated!!

      Great – glad you’ll be interested in the S&S readalong. Do you know, it’s so long since I read it that I couldn’t say…I’m going in with an open mind!๐Ÿ™‚

  15. I don’t think Crawford really loved Fanny at all. He thinks he did, but it was a mixture of vanity and pride and wanting to make this plain little creature fall in love with him. And, yes I used to think Fanny was a prig, but now I don’t. She is GOOD. This is a word that can still be priggish but she is good and she stuck to her principles through thick and thin, despite being excoriated and despised and snubbed on all sides. She is the one true and honourable person in the entire book. I personally think that she deserves better than both Edmund and Henry! There I am raising the flag for Fanny Price !!!!

    1. Hmmm…Elaine, maybe I just want to believe the best of Henry because I secretly fancy him? But I can’t help but think he would have truly changed his ways for Fanny. He does go to a lot of lengths to try and make her happy – look at what he did for William!

      She is true and honourable yes – but who likes those people? They make the rest of us look bad!! That’s why I love Mary – she is REAL!

      1. Well I think it is a shame if we cannot like somebody who is true and honourable. And I will admit that I almost wanted Fanny to marry Henry. I still dont think he really loved her and when his vanity and pride was wounded he then rushed off and ran off with Mrs rushworth.

        Mary is a great character and I have always liked her. Particularly when she stood up for Fanny against Aunt Bertram. If you read Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken she very much puts her centre stage

  16. Hugely enjoying the MP posts. I quite like Fanny – it’s Emma who irritates me! I heard Graham Norton (of all people!) on Desert Island Discs saying that he loves MP because it is all about theatricals. I’d never thought of it in that way before – but the production of Lovers Vows is certainly my favourite part of the novel!

    I have a soft spot for Henry, too.

    1. Glad you’ve enjoyed the discussion, Nicola! Irritated by Emma?! Never! I LOVE Emma – she’s so wonderful!

      That’s really interesting about it being theatrical – I suppose it is, in a way – it’s very much about people acting and making scenes. I didn’t think about that before. Another way of seeing the novel! So many facets!

      Oh, that Henry. Can us girls ever resist a bad boy!?

  17. Hello Rachel! I’ve been away and therefore missed all this lovely discussion about MP. I’m itching to contribute, but have missed the bus, alas. Anyway, very glad that you enjoyed it despite your frankly INSANE hatred of Fanny, heh heh. I will not add to the Fanny Wars except to say that I cannot agree with the suggestion that Jane Austen’s heart was not in Fanny as a heroine and secretly preferred Mary Crawford. In fact, I may have to fight whoever wrote that. JA wrote of Emma that she was going to write a heroine whom no one but she would like, so writing heroines who might be unpopular didn’t bother her. But thank you for hosting such a great argument and responding to everyone with such good grace!

    1. You haven’t missed the bus, Helen! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

      Hahahaha I just love how much people have been bashing me for my hatred of Fanny – I don’t understand how anyone can love her! She drives ME insane!!

      True about her not minding to create a heroine no one would like – but the thing is, I can’t see why or how she created such a flat character like Fanny after the bright and lively and opinionated heroines she created before. She has created characters like Fanny – Jane Bennett, Jane Fairfax…but they are not the centre of the novel because there’s not enough oomph to them. Making someone who should be on the sidelines the centre was – in my opinion – a mistake, and why Mansfield Park has never had the popularity of her other novels.

      Glad that you’ve enjoyed the discussion despite me opposing you!!

  18. Wow. My head is spinning from reading the fascinating exchange of views above. Before I go on I should perhaps make an admission of bias: I am, broadly speaking, an unexciting kind of guy who has never yet set hearts a flutter, tries to be good, and would never be described as a “bad boy”. As such, I probably find it very frustrating just how many women do love a bad boy. Guess I’ll just have to cope with that.

    I went back and tried to read the book from your perspective, but my conclusions about the characters were little changed by the end I’m afraid. Against the charge of Fanny’s priggishness I would add to the points already made by suggesting that she largely keeps her least generous thoughts to herself, whereas people should surely be judged more by what they actually do and say? I missed anything that looked like “nastiness” towards Henry, but I’m willing to admit that may have been because of my bias.

    I did come to see Mary Crawford in a better light, however, this was pretty much undone when she virtually admitted in a letter that it would not be such a bad thing if Tom died. To wish someone dead is bad in 2012 never mind 1812! The same goes for Henry and Maria’s elopement. You seem to forget that she is a married women. To run off with someone else’s spouse is still considered a bad thing to do today, even if the spouse in question is a buffoon.

    Whilst I did not come around to your point of view, one new conclusion I did draw from the re-read was that this is ulitmately a novel about bad parenting – hence the King Lear comparison that someone mentioned. Sir Thomas ends up bitterly regretting his failure to attend to his daughter’s moral education as much as to fitting them for the marriage market. Seen from this angle, Mansfield Park does not seem so different from other Austen novels: bad parents also feature prominently in both Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.

    Thank you for sparking this wonderful debate.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the debate, David!!

      I don’t think we’ll ever agree but I did come around to seeing why people like Fanny by the end, even if I couldn’t quite grow to like her myself.

      I think women will always love bad boys unfortunately! I don’t know why this is!!

      I found Fanny’s behaviour cold and unkind to many people – if she disapproves of someone’s behaviour, she lets them know it very clearly. I don’t like that side of her. I can respect her and appreciate why she is the way she is but liking her is still impossible!

      Mary wishing Tom dead was a bit much, yes, but she merely articulated a thought many people would have in the same situation – they just would have been wise enough to keep it to themselves! If the death of someone you barely knew would remove obstacles that would allow you to be happy for the rest of your life, you can’t be blamed for fleetingly thinking such things, now can you?!

      And as for the elopement…Maria is just as much to blame as Henry. It was a mutual decision – he hardly carried her off kicking and screaming. So I don’t think he’s as bad as all that. He doesn’t force Maria to come away with him, and she actually instigates it anyway. Yes he shouldn’t have done it – but we all do stupid things sometimes. I do think we expect far too much of the characters in this novel – Mary and Henry are judged by many to be awful human beings but what standard are they being judged against? Certainly not a standard of morality we ourselves possess, surely, otherwise everyone who ever read Mansfield Park must be a saint! I certainly don’t agree with infidelity or wishing people dead, but I do understand the circumstances that can lead to people making those decisions, and as they are usually far from black and white, I don’t think acting in such a way makes you an inherently bad person, just as I don’t think you being moral and noble and refusing to gossip about people makes you an inherently good person!

      I agree with you about the parenting part – I see the King Lear connection now. Austen does always seem to have a lot to say about poor parenting, which does beg the question of whom she based her observations on…I always thought she was supposed to have been on excellent terms with her parents but perhaps not.

      Thanks for your comments David!

  19. I hope I’m not hogging space on your blog here, but I had to share this with you from my current read, Fiennders Abbey by Jean Marsh (originally published as Fiennders Keepers in 1996). The heroine, Mary Jackson nee Bowden, is being taken to task for taking on too much responsibility. She responds:

    “It’s Jane Austen’s fault … I would like to be as good a woman as Fanny Price, but I can’t.
    “Mansfield Park was written years ago. These are modern times.
    “I know. Sometimes I hate her.
    “She does set improbably high standards. I would forget Fanny Price. An irritating little prig. I prefer Mary Bowden.”

    I think that there’s something there to please both the pro- and anti- Fanny camps.

  20. [“In pitting the religious and morally upstanding Fanny and Edmund against the secular and frivolous Mary and Henry, she is exploring the impact and consequences of a modernising society where traditional values and behaviours were starting to be eroded.”]

    One, why would a person assume that all “traditional values” are morally superior to modern views? I don’t. I have always believed that human behavior and values have always been questionable. And sometimes, the so-called “traditional values” have done nothing but hide some very questionable actions or feelings of humans throughout the ages.

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