Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (1814)

mansfieldpark

 

The nonsense and folly of people’s stepping out of their rank and trying to appear above themselves makes me think it right to give you a hint, Fanny, now that you are going into company without any of us; and I do beseech you and entreat you not to be putting yourself forward, and talking and giving your opinion as if you were one of your cousins…Remember, wherever you are, you must be the lowest and last….

 

Fanny Price is taken from her working class family to live with her more affluent aunt and uncle. Lady Bertram is her mother’s sister and it is suggested by her mother’s other sister, Mrs. Norris that taking Fanny in would relieve their sister of the burden and expense of raising another child. Fanny is 9 years old and a quiet and frightened child when she comes to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and their four children at Mansfield Park. For the next decade, while she is given everything material she could need, she lives a liminal life, sometimes included in the activities of her cousins and sometimes treated like a servant; decisions are made for her without her consent and criticisms of her thoughts and behavior are discussed by her aunts and uncle as if she isn’t there. Edmund, the younger of the two brothers, is her constant champion amidst the crassness and criticism of her Aunt Norris, who regularly reminds her of her humble place, regardless of how the Bertrams treat her or what they give to her.

Most of the action takes place through Fanny’s eyes and especially through her moral compass. Her cousins, the neighbors in the parsonage next door, are seen through her world view, which is exacting, unsentimental and harsh.

A Rigid Social Structure or is it just Fanny?

I don’t quite know what to make of Fanny Price. She has an unrelenting moral code that is so rigid and unforgiving it impedes her social interactions. With her delicate constitution she is forced to sit on the sidelines of many of life’s events, so she becomes the observer, the critic and the conscience-filter through which the motivation of each of her family and friends is measured. They ‘commit,’ what seem to me, infractions of the slightest intent or the folly of teenagers, yet to Fanny they are so grievous she cannot forgive.

I think there are subtleties of right and wrong, of etiquette and behavior during this period I am just not familiar. For instance, Fanny’s discomfort with Mary Crawford, which feels like plain old jealousy (over Edmund), yet I think even if she had not been Fanny’s rival, she would have found fault. Each person Fanny comes into contact with—Maria and Julia, her aunts, the Grants—can never live up to her impossibly high standards.

Who is Fanny, Anyway?

Edmund, from her first days at Mansfield Park, shows an almost 6th sense to Fanny’s material and emotional needs and comfort. He makes sure she is given a horse to ride every morning for her health, gives her a chain for the necklace her brother William gave her so she can wear it to the ball. Sir Thomas as well shows immense kindness to Fanny, especially once he returns from his business abroad. She accepts all of this with the appropriate gratitude, embarrassment and deference. But after the downfall of Maria and Julia, the break-up of Edmund and Mary Crawford, and Henry Crawford’s demise and finally, her triumph in winning Edmund, her quietude and deferential demeanor become something else. I see her as a conniver, who bides her time until she gets what she wants. Am I just mean, jaded or am I missing the point entirely?

I think there is a subtlety in this world that is foreign to me. For example, as loathsome as Mrs. Norris is to Fanny and everyone else at Mansfield Park, she is the least subtle and feels the most familiar. Her meanness comes from her own liminal life as a widow without a purpose or a place. She is a busy-body and treats Fanny abominably and tries to force the rest of the family to do her bidding often with disastrous results. She unnerves the Bertrams who want her gone from Mansfield Park; at Maria’s downfall, they get their wish. Yet, she is obvious in her brutishness; no one would expect anything different.

Austen 101

I would love to understand the details of this society; those minute cues and subtle looks that set Fanny off. If there is such a book that would explain it all to me, please let me know!

___________________

My Edition
Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Books
Device: Paperback
Year: 1814
Pages: 427
Full plot summary

Challenges: #AustenInAugustRBR, Classics Club, Mount TRB

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14 thoughts on “Mansfield Park, Jane Austen (1814)

  1. Fanny did seem to be perfect but by the time you are a few chapters into her life, isn’t it obvious why? I mean, Edmund is the chief source of her thoughts and opinions on various subjects and her moral values are guided and shaped by him too. And being an awkward little girl right from the beginning of her days with the Bertrams, I can hardly blame her for allowing anyone who showed her the least bit of kindness to have command over her thoughts. I don’t think she remains perfect because I can relate to the feelings she has about the different set of events she encounters. Having been wuth Edmund for most of her life, Henry’s behavior towards Maria is shocking to her. And when he seemingly removes his attention from Maria and directs it towards her in the most fervent manner possible it is hardly Fanny’s fault that she regards his character as inconstant. I would’ve done so too! 😉 Don’t you remember her saying
    ‘Run mad as often as you choose but do not faint.’ This, to me, sums up her thought process.

    But I absolutely LOVED your thoughts on the book. These gave me a perpective which I had not known before. 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate the time you took to comment here.

      What I have come to understand about Austen, especially after reading Mansfield Park, is that I don’t understand her!

      I just mean that there are nuances about the characters due to the time period that are so subtle to me that I miss them. But I have decided, come next August I am going to read Mansfield Park again. Between now and then I am also going to read more about Jane Austen and her times.

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  2. Pingback: A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori Smith (2007) – Relevant Obscurity

  3. I didn’t feel like Fannie was conniving, but I think that’s because I thought of the story as Austen writing a morality tale in which Fannie was rewarded for her goodness. I didn’t particularly attribute the outcome to Fannie’s agency. I get where you’re coming from though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think because I am not used to someone being so seemingly perfect, that it is just hard for me to believe she is real. I have never studied Austen, but now that I am reading her books and books about her, I might come to a different conclusion. But for now, I am sticking with this 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read this for the first time a few months ago. After writing my own commentary I dug around for criticism and opinions on this book. There seems to be no consensus on Fannny even among people who have studies Austen extensively. Critic Nina Auerbach compared her to the Frankenstein Monster! Perhaps that says something about the brilliance of her character.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. OMG! I need to read that Nina Auerbach study!*

      While I don’t think Fanny was a monster (!) I really felt as I came to the end of the book, she pulled the wool over. Thanks for this comment.

      *ETA: found it

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  5. Like A Lady I shall have to reread this (or at least my review of it) to remind myself of Austen’s exact implications.

    My abiding impression is that Fanny is acting the largely passive fairytale heroine role, as much reflecting the early 19C society as those earlier literary fairytales did the French salons of their era. We have characters corresponding to ugly sisters, a handsome prince, a king and queen, and a witch (whose name has been borrowed for the Hogwarts caretaker’s cat). What Austen does is flesh out the archetypes and place them firmly in a environment that would be familiar to her contemporaries.

    Whether I’m right is another matter, of course! And I’m sure mine is not an original hypothesis.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Chris for enlightening me. I tend to read novels based on a realistic point of view. I don’t really know from archetypes, but I understand more from your above comment. Also, I read your review and that made additional sense. Although I have to say I was quite excited to read the comment below that post from someone who, in a different way, questioned Fanny. Cue devilish similie!

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  6. A Lady

    Hi! ❤ For your request on knowing more about the subtle things of Austen's world, I'd suggest the Harvard annotated editions.

    I read the actual play {Lovers’ Vows, 1798. August von Kotzebue, translation Elizabeth Inchbald} that Edmund & the others put on in the middle of this book. It was an enormously popular play at the time this book was written, so it would have been well-known to the original readers of Mansfield Park. The play is a controversial story about a patriarch who grandly forgives social crimes and everyone lives happily ever after. Controversial because England was just coming off the French independence controversy where they beheaded their king, and England was QUITE A BIT ABOUT MAINTAINING STATUS QUO lest something similar happen to their world. I think Austen is pricking a hole through the courtesy ruling England’s social mores at the time. She’s basically saying ARE WE INDEED COURTEOUS, LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, OR IS THIS ALL FOR SHOW? {I} believe that Austen is mocking the idea that a patriarch would actually be so magnanimous as he’s presented in the play, by contrasting the contents of the play with the patriarch of Mansfield Park.

    I would love to share a solid argument but it’s been three years since I read Mansfield Park and I have nothing solid to share, ha ha! Possibly this will nudge you somewhere in your analysis though. 🙂

    I can’t actually recall what I made of Fanny when I read the book, except that I noticed she was the only one who refused to act in the entire novel. “I cannot act.” And I remember I was intrigued that the novel’s patriarch stands on the actual stage when he returns home and finds his children acting: he shouts at them not to act while “playing” the part of a good patriarch — and standing on their actual stage, as in, even while shouting he is acting. Meanwhile, he has just been overseas dealing in slavery. Good guy? Or corrupt social actor? I think Austen is asking.

    {My feeling} is that the book is about the corruption underlying courtesy and social rules in society. But without a refresher on the novel, I can’t say so with depth, ha ha. So you’re welcome for this vague analysis. 🙂

    But at any rate, reading Lovers’ Vows might help as Mansfield Park seems to darkly mirror its plot.

    Liked by 2 people

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